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How Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy learned that less can be more

Eduardo A. Encina, Tampa Bay Times on

Published in Hockey

TAMPA, Fla. — Early this season, Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy needed a change. After years of committing himself to an extensive preparation regimen that helped turn him into arguably the best netminder in the world, Vasilevskiy felt like he needed to pull back a bit.

He has played a lot of hockey — averaging 76 games, including playoffs, the past three seasons — but didn’t want to use that as an excuse, even after the Lightning started slowly this season.

“I definitely won’t go in that direction or cry about it,” Vasilevskiy said earlier this season. “It’s a privilege to play lots of hockey.”

Still, he recognized that he needed to alter his routine. So, he went to Lightning goaltending coach Frantz Jean to talk about condensing it and prioritizing rest between starts.

Vasilevskiy immediately saw benefits and hit a groove beginning in mid-November. After starting the season 4-5-1, he has gone 19-7-0 with a .926 save percentage over his last 26 games, earning his fifth NHL All-Star Game assignment. He was voted in by fans for Saturday’s game in Sunrise.

“He’s definitely been the most consistent player on our team by a mile, and he’s not taking any game for granted,” said fellow All-Star Nikita Kucherov. “He wants to win. He shows it with the game he’s playing, and we’re just so lucky to have such a competitive guy in the room. He’s been by far our best player, and for any team in the league, probably.”

 

Vasilveskiy’s early-season numbers weren’t necessarily indicative of his play, as he faced a number of odd-man rushes and open scoring chances due to Lightning turnovers and coverage lapses early in games.

“He’s always been ready to play,” Lightning TV color analyst Brian Engblom said. “The number of times that the team had poor starts, it’s one of those things where if I have a dime for every time I’ve said after a game, ‘Yeah, they won by two or three goals, but if it wasn’t for Vasilevskiy in the first period,’ I don’t know how many times I said that. And it’s true. He would start faster than the rest of the team.”

At age 28, Vasilevskiy already is attaining some historic milestones. On Jan. 24, he reached 250 career wins in the second-fewest games in NHL history (399), trailing only Ken Dryden (381 games), the legendary netminder during Montreal’s dynasty teams of the 1970s. Vasilevskiy currently has 252 wins in 401 games..

But what stands out to Jean is the maturity Vasilevskiy has shown this season by realizing that he needs to adjust his routine as he gets older.

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