Vasilevskiy to get ‘more games’ as Bolts look to future

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On July 1, when the Tampa Bay Lightning gave Andrei Vasilevskiy a contract extension through 2019-20, they essentially committed to a changing of the guard in goal.

Though Ben Bishop remains with the team today, he’s a pending unrestricted free agent who’s not expected to re-sign, and may even be traded prior to the March 1 deadline.

The situation leaves head coach Jon Cooper with a challenge. Vasilevskiy only started 21 games last season, in large part because Bishop was so good. But if Vasilevskiy is the goalie of the future, he needs to play.

“The one thing is, you got to get Vasilevskiy more games. It’s what’s best for our team and what’s best for him,” Cooper told ESPN.com on Monday. “But you have to keep Bish engaged too, because he’s a two-time Vezina finalist the last three years and he’s a big reason we are where we are today. So there’s a balance. But if you really think about it, you start getting into the crux of the season, you’re playing 3-4 games a week, guys are getting in. I just want to find a way to have both guys play every week. It’s my job to find a way to get them in, and that’s what’s going to happen.”

So far this season, Bishop has started three games and Vasilevskiy two. The youngster, just 22 years old, has been excellent, going 2-0-0 with a .952 save percentage. Bishop, on the other hand, has allowed 11 goals in his three starts, for a save percentage of just .861.

It’s still early, but it’s going to be very interesting to see how this shakes out. If Vasilevskiy is still playing well by the trade deadline, GM Steve Yzerman may be tempted to deal Bishop. But then again, it’s always nice to have two capable netminders heading into the playoffs, as the Lightning know better than anyone that goalies can get hurt.

The Bolts are currently on a six-game road trip. They started with a win Saturday in Ottawa, with Vasilevskiy between the pipes. They play tonight in Toronto and Thursday in Montreal, before hitting the New York area for games against the Devils, Rangers, and Islanders.