The Tampa Bay Lightning today announced that goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy will miss 4-6 weeks with a left foot fracture. All things considered, the diagnosis could have been worse. The timing of the injury is also not horrible for the Lightning with it being earlier in the year and during a softer stretch in the schedule.
Vasilevskiy has already missed one game and at a minimum looks to be missing at least 13 more games if he returns exactly four weeks from the injury. The further end of the return timeline means missing a total of 19 games including last night’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In the meantime, back-up goaltender Louis Domingue takes over as the starter for the Lightning. He was acquired exactly for this reason last season as he has NHL starting experience. The Lightning could have held on to Peter Budaj, but he also had not been outstanding last season before an injury put him out of the lineup and opened the door for Domingue to secure the back-up spot for himself.
Domingue started the season with two nice performances in wins over the Carolina Hurricanes and Chicago Blackhawks. His third start of the season saw him make just 23 saves on 30 shots while giving up seven goals to the Arizona Coyotes. In the last three games, he’s kept the team competitive and they’ve won two games where he allowed three goals. He lost Tuesday night against the Buffalo Sabres in a scheduled start for him prior to Vasilevskiy’s injury when he allowed two goals on 19 shots, but the Lightning could only get one puck past Carter Hutton.
Eddie Pasquale has already been recalled from the Syracuse Crunch to back up Domingue in net. For Pasquale, he’ll get to collect an NHL paycheck while not playing very much. Pasquale has been a solid AHL goaltender in his professional career, but has yet to see the ice in the NHL, except from the bench.
The Lightning only have one back-to-back game scheduled during the stretch that Vasilevskiy is expected to be out of the line-up. That one will be on the road December 3rd and 4th against the New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings. They will also be the 2nd and 3rd games in a four day stretch for the Lightning. The rest of the schedule will see the Lightning playing every other day up until that back-to-back.
They’ll then repeat the every other day schedule for three more games until they finally get a two-day break on either side of the December 13th game at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs. That game also represents the earliest that Vasilevskiy could return from injury. The Lightning have a four game break for Christmas at the tail end of Vasilevskiy’s return time line before facing the Philadelphia Flyers at home on December 27th. If we see Pasquale start a game, I would bet on it being either the New Jersey or Detroit game in the back-to-back.
The schedule is also not as hard as it could be. Of the next 13 games that Vasilevskiy is expected to definitely miss, only five of the teams currently sit in a playoff spot. In the last couple of weeks where Vasilevskiy could still be out, the Lightning play five games starting with the Toronto Maple Leafs at home, before going on the western Canada road trip facing the Winnipeg Jets, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, and Edmonton Oilers. Of those five teams, only Edmonton currently sits outside of the playoff picture, but are only one point behind the Dallas Stars for the second wild card spot.
Considering the favorable nature of the schedule, searching for another option in net isn’t as pressing a need as it might have been. If the team had a more condensed schedule, they might feel pressured to add a better second option than Pasquale. But for now, they should be able to get by with Domingue.
If an option falls in their lap, such as Carolina getting healthy and deciding to cut Curtis McIlhenney, the Lightning might put in a claim on waivers just for the extra security and the ability to get Pasquale back to Syracuse sooner to share the workload with Connor Ingram. But a trade given the current state of the goalie landscape across the league seems unlikely.
The net in Tampa belongs to Domingue and look for that to continue through Vasilevskiy’s entire injury unless something significant changes.