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Quick Strikes: How many games should Andrei Vasilevskiy start this season?

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Slow news day yesterday, so let’s think about goaltending!

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Islanders Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

The Bolts

A few days ago, ESPN’s Dimitri Filipovic raised one of the stickier questions in hockey: how much should teams play their starting goaltender in order to prolong his effectiveness during the regular season? [Article here.] The current fancy name for it is “load management,” but I’d like to think that Raw Charge was ahead of the curve by raising the issue about the Tampa Bay Lightning back in 2017. More about that in a moment.

Dimitri’s article discusses the reason behind load management here:

With the developments in sports science that have shown the links among fatigue, performance and injury, clubs are doing what they can to keep players productive and healthy for as long as possible.

And then brings up the most effective ways in which teams have been juggling goalie workloads:

Of the teams that won a playoff round last season, the Sharks (62) and Blue Jackets (61) were the only ones to start their No. 1 goalie more than 45 times over the course of the regular season. (....)

At the moment, there are only seven goalies trending toward starting more than 60 games, based on their early-season usage, with the healthy majority of netminders (22 to be exact) sandwiched somewhere between 41 and 55 appearances.

His article doesn’t touch upon Tampa, which shows up in the “poor tandem” portion of his chart, but what can we gather so far about Tampa’s goaltending?

First, instead of giving Curtis McElhinney more starts than usual this season to follow the trend, he’s hovering at 30% (five) starts, with Vasilevskiy taking the bulk (12) of the starts so far. Is McBackup starting more than usual? No. Last season, Vasy started 53 games, and Louis Domingue and Eddie Pasquale started the remaining 26 and 3, respectively. This is 65% of starts, a little lower than this season so far.

The 2016-17 season was the first one in which Vasilevskiy started the majority of games and officially took the baton from Ben Bishop as the team starter. That season he played 50 games, with Bishop, Peter Budaj, and Kristers Gudlevskis starting 32/7/1 respectively. Saima (I miss you!) wrote an article about Vasy’s workload that season, pointing out that exhaustion was a clear issue for him:

The Lightning took on the Detroit Red Wings on December 20. Halfway through the first period, Ben Bishop was injured and Vasilevskiy took over. Since then, Vasy has started every game.

He has played 10 games in 20 days including three back-to-backs. He was only pulled once, for the last ten minutes of a 4-0 loss to the Washington Capitals. Aside from that, he’s played every single minute since Bishop was injured. That’s a heavier workload than any other NHL goalie has faced this season.

Vasilevskiy’s stats during this stretch were 4-5-1 with .882 SV%.

We wrote a very similar article in 2017-18, when our beat writer Matt noticed that Vasy was starting a ridiculous number of games. Vasy ended up starting 65, with Domingue and Budaj starting 12/8 respectively. It prompted a lot of concern about Vasy’s workload, including an article from Joe Smith that quoted Vasy saying that fatigue was impacting his play. I highly recommend reading the second half of Matt’s article, because it discusses the impact of workload on goaltenders specifically.

The conclusion Matt reached was a lot more conservative than the articles coming out this year, and Dimitri’s specifically:

From what [Cat] Silverman and [Murat] Ates have researched we can safely assume that as long as Vasielvskiy does not break the 70 game threshold, then there should be little worry about his performance moving forward. However, given Vasilevskiy’s age, the Lightning would be wise to lock-in a strong backup to take 15-20 games (possibly more) to lighten the load on the young Russian. It never hurts to be too careful.

This early in the 2019-20 season, I have nothing but questions:

  • Considering the Bolts’ post-season performance in 2019 and the fact that Vasy started 53 of the games in the 2018-19 season, should he be starting even fewer this season?
  • Is McElhinney good enough to start closer to 50% of games?
  • How much does a strong defense impact goaltender stats, and how many well-thought-of goalies are just reflections of their D?
  • Is a hot dog a very boring bao?

Anyway. What do you guys think?

The News

Compared to how the Bolts did last season, we’re on pace to match 2015-16. That season’s team ended up in the ECF, right? Sounds fine to me.

Crunch fans, this is a lovely thing to sponsor:

Have an excellent Monday!