Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper confirmed following morning skate at the First Niagara Center today backup goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy will start tonight’s matchup against the Buffalo Sabres.
Vasilevskiy made his season debut earlier on the Bolts’ current four-game road trip in Carolina and made 32 saves to earn the win. The Russian missed the first month of the season after having surgery September 3 to remove a blood clot near his left collarbone.
Vasilevskiy has had plenty of previous success against Buffalo too. Last season in his rookie year, the Russian started two games against the Sabres and let in just one goal combined to win both. Vasilevskiy recorded the only shutout of his NHL career in a 3-0 Lightning win over Buffalo on March 3, 2015, at Amalie Arena.
Meanwhile, forward Cedric Paquette, who has been out of action for the past five games with a lower-body injury, participated in this morning’s line rushes, centering a line with Vladislav Namestnikov on the left wing and Ryan Callahan on the right.
Cooper said Paquette’s availability against Buffalo would be a game-time decision.
“He was feeling pretty good, but we want to see how the day progresses,” Cooper said. “We’ll know tonight when he shows up.”
Jonathan Drouin remains out with a lower-body injury. Drouin took part in the Bolts morning skate but wasn’t involved in line rushes. He will miss his fifth-straight game tonight.
“He’s slowly getting better,” Cooper said.
The Lightning are facing Buffalo for the third time in 2015-16 despite playing just their 15th game of the season overall tonight. The Bolts have won both prior contests, downing the Sabres 4-1 in Buffalo (Oct. 10) and 2-1 at Amalie Arena (Oct. 17).
In the first meeting, Buffalo outshot the Lightning 16-3 in the first period. The Bolts scored three-straight goals to break a 1-1 tie and win their second-straight game to open the season.
“We were extremely fortunate to come back and win the hockey game,” Cooper said. “If we think that type of effort’s going to do it tonight, we’ll be in trouble.”
The Sabres outshot the Lightning 32-22 overall in the second matchup and held a first-period lead but couldn’t hold on at Amalie Arena.
Vladislav Namestnikov scored his second goal of the season to level the score in the second period, and Alex Killorn provided the game-winner on the power play with 3:57 to go in regulation to send the Lightning to their sixth-straight victory over the Sabres.
The Lightning will play all four matchups against Buffalo in the first 17 games of the regular season as the Bolts host the Sabres two games from now on Nov. 10.
Tampa Bay is 9-1-1 in their last 11 versus the Sabres.
The Lightning are 6-1-1 in Buffalo dating back to the 2011-12 season.
Tampa Bay has yet to hold a lead after the first period in any of their 14 games this season.
The Lightning are the only team in the NHL that has yet to lead after the first.
Cooper suggested the dubious stat isn’t so much a product of the Lightning starting games poorly but the Bolts overall lack of scoring.
Tampa Bay led the NHL in goals (259) during the 2014-15 regular season and returned basically the same lineup coming into this year, but currently, the Bolts are ranked 20th in the league for average goals per game (2.43).
The Lightning have scored just five first-period goals this season.
“It’s hard to lead when you can’t score,” Cooper said. “We’re a bottom 10 team in the league in goals for, which is, I think that’s the more remarkable thing after we led the league last year in scoring. So, if you’re not going to score, stats like that are going to come about because we rarely have the lead because we’re not scoring. I think once we start finding the back of the net, those things will change.”
Tampa Bay has given up three or fewer goals in its last seven games but is just 2-4-1 over that stretch…The Lightning have scored a power-play goal in each of the last four games…The Bolts are second in the NHL for faceoff win percentage at 52.5 percent…Recent AHL callup Tye McGinn will face his older brother Jamie tonight provided both are in the lineup. Jamie is a forward for Buffalo. Tye made his Lightning debut and played against his younger brother Brock on Sunday in the Lightning’s 4-3 win at Carolina. “It’s been amazing,” Tye said. “Not many people get to experience that. Me being the middle (brother), it’s kind of cool seeing your older brother achieve what he’s achieved, and to experience (playing with) your younger brother, it’s something that I can’t express into words. It’s phenomenal.”