In a tight-lipped league where you’re lucky to find out if an injury affects a player’s upper or lower-body, it’s refreshing when someone will simply acknowledge the truth.
In noting that the Vezina race was going from “Andrei Vasilevskiy and everyone else” to an interesting battle that also includes Pekka Rinne, it was interesting to note that Vasilevskiy came into the All-Star break with a .931 save percentage, only to slip to a .911 mark in the (now 14) games since then.
It’s easy to forget that the 23-year-old hasn’t really been the top goalie on the Tampa Bay Lightning for very long. It’s barely March and he’s already set a career-high with 55 games played, five more than last season’s 50; beyond these past two seasons, he only played 40 regular-season games combined as Ben Bishop‘s understudy.
On Wednesday, Vasilevskiy admitted that the fatigue was getting to him, as the Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith reports.
“Tiredness is something that I probably never faced before,” Vasilevskiy said. “I mean, 50-plus games. When you play in 20-plus games, it’s like you think, ‘Oh, I’m good, I can play 60-plus.’ But now when I’m on 50-plus, I’m like, ‘That’s tough.’
“So that’s why sometimes I’m probably not as sharp, like probably the first half of the season. That’s why I have to adjust and be on the top of my game.”
Again, that’s surprisingly candid stuff, at least in the NHL.
Acknowledging the likely truth isn’t such a bad thing, although you have to think that the Lightning might wish that they had a more proven backup than Louis Domingue. In 91 regular-season games, the 26-year-old has a .905 save percentage and 3.02 GAA, and he’s only played in seven games for Tampa Bay since being traded from Arizona.
The Lightning might want to at least consider punting some games to let Vasilevskiy get his game back together. We’ve seen certain teams in “luxury” positions experiment with different lineups and rest. While the Nashville Predators likely want to experiment with different alignments considering their wealth of options at forward, it’s still remarkable to see prominent players like Kyle Turris getting a rest. And it might be the sort of decision that echoes more progressive leagues like the NBA, and maybe pays off during the playoffs.
Really, Tampa Bay must weigh some considerations. Do they push Vasilevskiy to the limit or would they be better off splitting starts between their Vezina candidate and his backup(s) more evenly? The latter idea might make them more vulnerable to losing the Atlantic Division title to the Boston Bruins, who are sitting their own starter Tuukka Rask amid injury (and maybe also fatigue?) concerns.
We’ve seen evidence of athletes breaking down from too much use, from NFL running backs to MLB pitchers, and maybe NHL goalies fit into that category. Plenty of people wondered if the Oilers ran Cam Talbot into the ground with a deep playoff push and 73 regular-season games played last season, and perhaps a ton of games caught up with Braden Holtby this season?
Such thoughts shouldn’t be dismissed by the Lightning, nor should any team. Rest is crucial, and backups are very useful, when parity reigns.
Maybe it’s alarming to hear Vasilevskiy admit he’s tired, but at least that confession comes, most likely, with plenty of time for him to freshen up for the playoffs.