What can you say about Andrei Vasilevskiy that hasn’t already been said. He’s the rubber man, he’s a cat lover, and he’s a damn good goaltender. The Lightning allowed 65 shot attempts in the siege that ended up being their 2-1 win. The Bolts blocked 19 shots, allowing 39 on net, with Vasy stopping all but one.
Not many players on the Bolts had the best start to 2020 ever (though, I thought the Yanni Gourde, Cedric Paquette, and Pat Maroon line was quite good), but Vasy definitely did, especially after a tough start to the season.
In the game, Big Cat had a .972 save percentage and was a full 0.99 goals saved above average in this game. Literally, if he wasn’t in this game, the Habs would’ve likely tied it up and possibly won.
The Lightning kicked off the game with a bang when Erik Cernak saw his point shot tip off both Anthony Cirelli and Steven Stamkos before sailing past Carey Price and in. It was a lucky goal as the puck bounced off Stamkos’ hip and still carried enough momentum to beat Price, but I’d say the second line made their own luck. If Cirelli, Stamkos, and Alex Killorn hadn’t won their puck battles along the boards and gotten on the insides of their checkers, they wouldn’t have been in a position to score.
Update. After the game, this goal was officially changed back to Anthony Cirelli as it was determined that Stamkos never actually touched the puck (it might’ve gone off the Habs defender). I find it really funny that the off-ice officials go to such lengths to get this goal right, but the referees can’t count the clock back a second, creating the whole John Tortorella v. League fight this week.
The Habs tie the game up seconds after their power play expired when a loose centering puck arrived on Jeff Petry’s stick. He blasted the puck right into the top corner past Andrei Vasilevskiy. Yanni Gourde had a long way to go from the far-side penalty box. He was just a second too late to catch Petry and disrupt his shot. I didn’t see an angle from him whether he came out of the box at full speed or not. I hope he didn’t leave anything on the table because it might’ve cost the team a goal.
After Palat tipped the puck into the offensive zone, Price tried to play the puck but he bobbled it just as Brayden Point came onto the scene. The young center spun and found Nikita Kucherov drifting to the front of the net from the weak side, completely invisible. It was as simple as a tap in for Kuch’s 14th goal of the season.
As I live in Canada, I had to watch the Montreal feed of this game. I found it really funny when the Habs were on the power play and the commentators lauded Nick Suzuki’s cross-ice pass from the top of the circle to Tomas Tatar (also at the top of the opposite circle) that was “super effective.” It was even funnier when they said the right as Suzuki sent the pass over and two Bolts penalty killers read the play and swallowed up Tatar. That play is not special, Quebec, grow some standards.
There was another moment in the period when the Bolts tried to ring the puck around the boards, but had it cut off behind the net, causing a scramble to get back. Vasy had to make a scorpion save, which he made look easy, of course.
Andrei Vasilevskiy is an elastic marvel. pic.twitter.com/YKsj3rJuK1— InGoal Magazine (@InGoalMedia) January 3, 2020
I thought the Lightning had a good first period, but they lost their grasp on possession as the period continued, which only got worse in the second period. I really liked Mikhail Sergachev with his mobility and aggressiveness. He was moved up and down the lineup and got penalty kill time for a unit that technically remained perfect throughout the game.
Numbers after 1 for TB v MTL. Fairly even period with the Habs having the advantage in all situations because of the power plays. pic.twitter.com/gSKPOJhmFM— Replacement Level Analyst (@loserpoints) January 3, 2020
Habs played in Tampa’s zone for much of the period. It was the third line of Gourde, Pat Maroon, and Cedric Paquette that first relieved some of the pressure later in the period and got the momentum flowing the other way a little bit. The Habs are Corsi Kings, but they didn’t really challenge Vasy too much at all.
That’s pretty much the extent of my thoughts on the period. It was a lot of zone time I hope the Lightning cut out, but in terms of moments when my heartbeat was raised, there were few to none. The shot data also reflects this, with the Habs getting their strong expected goals number from a high number of shot attempts rather than quality.
Numbers after 2. Habs well in control of this game everywhere but the scoreboard. Vasy coming up big in the second period but can't expect him to do this for another 20 minutes. pic.twitter.com/KwvypHxE4J— Replacement Level Analyst (@loserpoints) January 3, 2020
My only through in the third period: Andrei Vasilevskiy is teaching Carey Price how to play goaltender. Making every save look easy, even when under the most intense pressure. Vasy stayed within himself, collected every rebound, and allowed his boys to pick up rebounds and get the puck out.
The Habs fans in attendance in Montreal created moments of crescendos as they urged their team to score many times, but looking purely at the play, I didn’t feel any less worried about the strength of the Lightning lead only until the two sides played some 4v4 then 3v4 with about five minutes left in the game, and again when Price was pulled for an extra attacker in the final minute.
Of course, any shot can go in, but with the way Vasilevskiy was playing, I felt so confident that it would have to take something special for the Habs to beat him (and the fact that the Habs don’t have any special players on their roster), that I wasn’t worried one bit. I’m very grateful Vasy proved me right.
I really liked the Lightning skaters ability to get on the inside of plays and keep the Habs from penetrating the front of the net. Their loss of Brendan Gallagher definitely hurt in this area. Looking at the heat map from the game, you can see the Lightning did all their dirty work right in front of the net and they were rewarded quite well.
For the Habs, they couldn’t get a hold of rebounds right in front of Vasilevskiy, meaning they had to just work on volume from the middle and outer zone. Lots of shots from the top of the faceoff circles and from the wings.