TAMPA, Fla. — Andrei Vasilevskiy likes to stay busy. The Lightning goaltender says he’s most comfortable when he’s seeing a lot of pucks headed his way. It allows him to get into a rhythm and make the dynamic, game-changing saves fans have come to expect from him.
The bigger challenge for Vasilevskiy is when he doesn’t get much work, which has happened to him early in games several times this season. Then in the third period, the opponent goes on an offensive surge and Vasilevskiy suddenly finds himself under siege.
Fortunately for the Lightning, that’s when Vasilevskiy has been at his best.
As a result, he might be off to the best start of his young but accomplished career. He already has a Vezina Trophy and Stanley Cup to his credit at the age of 26. But early in his fifth full NHL season, Vasilevskiy is showing he’s nowhere near the peak of his potential.
“It helps having the best goalie in the world,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “He’s a competitor, and he’s a big reason why we are the team that we are. We have him back there making some saves that shouldn’t be saved, and he makes it look easy, so it obviously helps big time. He’s grown so much since he got into the league. He’s always had the talent, but now he’s just so consistent.”
Entering Thursday’s games, Vasilevskiy ranked second in the NHL in goals-against average (1.87) and save percentage (.935) among goaltenders with at least 10 games. His 11-3-1 record put him on pace to lead the league in wins for the fourth straight season.
“I think the experience factor is extremely important in the position,” Lightning goaltending coach Frantz Jean said. “And now he’s four or five years into his NHL career, and I think the fact that last year he had a really, really solid playoff, won the Stanley Cup, that brought to him I think a lot of confidence into his process and into what he’s doing every day. The end result of his process is a Stanley Cup, so he realized that, he accomplished that. So I think there’s so much more trust in what he’s doing and his approach.”
Vasilevsky’s coaches said they’ve seen the most improvement in his ability to manage games mentally, especially when he’s not getting action early yet able to stay calm when facing a third-period rush.
“The athletic ability and all those things, you get to see as a kid comes up at 20, 21, 22 years old,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “But it’s how do you process the game as a goaltender? Can you turn the page when things go poorly? And I’ve really watched him grow. And that’s how you become elite.
“Your skill and your athleticism will make you good, might even make you great, but if you want to be elite, you’ve got to be calm between the ears, and that’s what he’s become.”