Andrei Vasilevskiy could make his NHL debut as early as tonight when the Tampa Bay Lightning face the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center.
Vasilevskiy was recalled from the Lightning’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse Tuesday morning following an injury to starting goaltender Ben Bishop in Monday’s 4-2 loss to Pittsburgh. Bishop is listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury but will not play tonight.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said it would be a “game-time decision” whether to start Vasilevskiy or NHL veteran Evgeni Nabokov, who made saves on 18 of 21 shots over the final two periods against the Penguins.
“There’s a ton of things that go into (the decision),” Cooper said. “We’ve got a 700-game NHL guy and a guy that’s played pretty well for us in spurts versus we’ve got a kid that’s coming up that is learning to play hockey in North America. But, he is coming off being named AHL Player of the Week. He’s had a good run of starts. You’ve got a team that’s in a little bit of a funk. You may need something different, or go to old faithful and put the team on his back. There’s a bunch of different things. That’s what we have to wrestle with.”
Vasilevskiy was named CCM/AHL Player of the Week on Monday following his performance in two starts for Syracuse during the week ending December 14.
On Wednesday, Vasilevskiy made 26 saves to shutout Springfield in a 2-0 Crunch victory that snapped the Falcons’ franchise-record 11-game winning streak. Friday, Vasilevskiy stopped 29 of 30 shots to beat Hershey 4-1.
The 20-year-old Russian recorded a 0.50 goals-against average and .982 save percentage last week. Vasilevskiy has allowed just one goal or fewer in six of his last eight starts in Syracuse.
We looked down at his numbers the last six, seven games, they’re outstanding and been recognized by the league,” Cooper said. “So, he’s finding his way for the game and speaking with [Syracuse head] coach [Rob] Zettler, he said he’s been outstanding for them.”
Vasilevskiy, the Lightning’s first-round pick (19th overall) in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, has appeared in 14 games with the Crunch this season, posting an 8-3-3 record along with a 2.34 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.
Nabokov, who is in his 14th season in the NHL, has made eight appearances in 2014-15 for the Lightning and compiled a 3-4-1 record, 2.99 goals-allowed average and .893 save percentage.
GUDAS, PALAT UPDATES
Cooper said Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas was questionable for tonight’s game against Philadelphia but would be available for this weekend’s games against New Jersey (Friday) and the New York Islanders (Saturday).
Gudas has missed both games on the current road trip with a stomach virus.
“It has zero to do with the mumps,” Cooper reiterated, considering the epidemic sweeping the NHL currently. “You don’t eat for two days…that takes a little bit of time.”
Cooper said Bolts forward Ondrej Palat, who has sat the past three games with a lower-body injury, skated again Tuesday morning but didn’t have a timetable for his return.
With Monday’s defeat in Pittsburgh, the Lightning have dropped two in a row and four of their last six. The Bolts have certainly hit a rough patch in December, going 3-3-1 during the month.
But Cooper doesn’t think his team has lost confidence after a blazing-hot start to the NHL season.
“I think anytime you lose, you can’t sit here and say ‘oh my gosh, we’re the most confident club,’” Cooper said. “I don’t think we’re fragile by any means. I think we show up for every game and give it our best shot and see what happens. And that’s what you expect from your team.”
Cooper said a lot of the losses have been a result of catching teams at the wrong time when they’re playing their best hockey of the season. Outstanding goaltending from the opposition hasn’t helped either, nor has the Lightning’s penchant recently for hurting themselves.
“I think we go long stretches of playing extremely well, and then we make one self-inflected wound and it ends up in the back of the net,” he said. “I think that’s probably the one thing that’s a little troubling for our team. I think we would potentially handle it a little bit different if we had a team of all 30-year-olds and been in the league 10 years, but we don’t have that. We’ve got a bunch of guys that are still all learning.”