Despite Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s recent struggles, the Tampa Bay Lightning have maintained a playoff berth. Adam Proteau examines the evidence that shows it’s not all his responsibility.
The Tampa Bay Lightning’s ace goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy and seasoned backup Brian Elliott have had a difficult time of it so far this NHL season.
The two were instrumental in leading the Bolts to an Eastern Conference title last season, but they are showing the wear and strain that comes with so much hockey, and there are things that aren’t in their control that have contributed to Tampa’s 9-6-1 record (we’ll get to those issues below). However, they contribute to the Lightning’s poor performance.
It’s not unheard of for a contemporary dynasty like the Lightning to struggle to regain the form that made them playoff juggernauts a few years ago. With three consecutive trips to the Cup finals, they have played more games than any other club over the previous three years.
Whatever the reason, a player’s performance can dip before the playoffs begin, as was the case with Vasilevskiy in the 2022 postseason. He struggled early on against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but once he found his groove, no team could catch them until the Stanley Cup final, when they ran into Colorado’s superior offense.
So, it’s understandable if Vasilevskiy struggles to immediately step up his game this season. The facts speak for themselves: after starting the season well (3-3-0 record, 2.87 goals-against average, and.910 save percentage), Vasilevskiy has struggled recently, with a save percentage of.897 or below in six of his last seven games and a 3.37 GAA and.883 SP in the month of February.
While playing in five games, Elliott has had a 3.37 GAA and.891 SP. They won’t be contending for the William Jennings Trophy as the league’s most efficient goaltender tandem. However, it doesn’t imply they can’t make it.
The Lightning have the 14th-best defense in the NHL, and part of their problems may be attributed to a major shakeup in their defensive core.
While his best years are behind the 33-year-old Ryan McDonagh, the salary cap-strapped Bolts made a smart move by trading him this summer. McDonagh can still provide 20 quality minutes every game. Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev remain as a formidable one-two punch for the Lightning, but after those two there is a noticeable decline in quality.
Newcomers Ian Cole and Erik Cernak aren’t top-four defensemen, and there’s only so many times coach Jon Cooper can play Hedman and Sergachev before they’re exhausted for the playoffs.
The Lightning’s attack is nearly as potent as it was last season, averaging 3.38 goals per game (3.48). Although it was a blow to lose important winger Ondrej Palat to free agency this offseason, the top two lines are producing enough offense for the team to win games right now.
However, the defense has been subpar, and according to Budget Friendly, Tampa general manager Julien BriseBois will only have $2.8 million in cap room to address all his requirements this season, which includes adding depth to the offensive line and defensive unit. In all likelihood, they lack the resources to acquire Arizona Coyotes defender Jakub Chychrun. It’s likely that they’ll have to look inside themselves for the solution.
With a squad as successful as the Lightning’s, it’s hardly the worst thing that could happen. It’s not like turning on a light. Moment is on Cooper and company’s side; all they care about is (a) making the playoffs and (b) peaking at the proper time. They accomplished this feat once, so there’s no reason to doubt that they couldn’t do it again.