Should Tampa Bay be concerned about Andrei Vasilevskiy’s play?
Heading into the current NHL season, the Tampa Bay Lightning have seen their goaltending tandem of superstar Andrei Vasilevskiy and veteran backup Brian Elliott struggle with their consistency.
The duo led the Bolts to an Eastern Conference championship last year, but they’re not short on wear and tear from playing that much hockey, and there are contributing factors beyond their control (we’ll get to those in below), so they can’t be entirely blamed for Tampa’s 9-6-1 record. But they are playing a role in the Lightning’s lackluster branding.
In some ways, it’s not surprising to see a modern dynasty like the Lightning have trouble elevating their play, as individuals and as a group, to the level that made them so formidable in the postseason in the past. few years After all, they have played more games than any team in the last three seasons as a result of their three consecutive Cup Final appearances.
Whether it’s a subconscious thing or not, players can have their performance fluctuate before it’s time for a real crunch, and that was true for Vasilevskiy in the 2022 postseason: He didn’t find his elite play until the end of the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but once he did, he couldn’t stop him until he ran into a superior offense in Colorado in the Stanley Cup Final.
So you can forgive Vasilevskiy a bit if he can’t step up his game right away this season. The truth is in the results: After a first month in which he had reasonably solid individual numbers (3-3-0 record, 2.87 goals-against average and .910 save percentage), Vasilevskiy has down, with an .897. SP or worse in six of his last seven games, and with a 3.37 GAA and .883 SP this month.
Elliott, meanwhile, has a 3.37 GAA and .891 SP through five games. They are not a threat to win the William Jennings Trophy as the league’s toughest goaltending duo. That doesn’t mean they can’t get there, though.
Another part of the Lightning’s defensive struggles that have them as the 14th best defense in the NHL can be attributed to the significant change in their defense corps.
The salary-capped Bolts traded for veteran Ryan McDonagh in the summer, and while the 33-year-old McDonagh’s peak years are behind him, he can still give a team a solid 20 minutes a night. Tampa Bay still has perennial Norris Trophy frontrunners Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev as an excellent one-two punch, but after that, the drop-off in talent is notable.
Offseason addition Ian Cole and Erik Cernak aren’t top-four D-men, and coach Jon Cooper can only take out Hedman and Sergachev so often before burning them out before the playoffs begin.
Averaging 3.38 goals per game this year, the Lightning offense is nearly as effective as it was last season (3.48). Yes, losing key wing Ondrej Palat to unrestricted free agency hurt this offseason, but their top two lines are generating enough offense to win games.
The defense, however, hasn’t been up to par, and according to Cap Friendly, Tampa general manager Julien BriseBois is projected to have just $2.8 million in cap space to address all of his needs this season, which include depth in front and below. Of It’s highly unlikely they have the assets to make a move for Arizona defenseman Jakub Chychrun. The answer for them will probably have to come from within.
That’s not the worst thing in the world when you have a proven winning lineup like the Lightning. It’s not as easy as flipping a switch. It will be a process, and all that worries Cooper & Co. it’s (a) playing well enough to make the postseason and (b) thriving at the right time. They’ve done it before, and there’s no reason to suspect they can’t do it again.
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