Lightning’s Vasilevskiy Chasing Vezina Trophy Repeat

Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was the 2019 recipient of the Vezina Trophy, given annually to the NHL’s best goalie, voted by the league’s general managers. It was the first time Vasilevskiy won the award and the first time a Lightning goalie was honored with the trophy.

Tampa Bay Lightning Andrei Vasilevskiy
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (AP Photo/Tom Gannam, File)

Vasilevskiy’s stats over the course of the 2018-19 campaign were stellar. His 39 wins led all goalies. Second on the wins list was Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets who needed 61 starts to earn his 37 victories, while Vasilevskiy got two more wins in just 53 starts. Vasilevskiy’s six shutouts tied for fourth, and his 2.40 goals-against average (GAA) and .925 save percentage (SV%) ranked consistently in the top tier among starting goalies.

Remarkably, Vasilevskiy won 18 of his final 21 regular-season starts, including a 10-game winning streak to set a club and personal record. He helped the Lightning reach the 62-win mark that tied the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for the most victories in an NHL regular season.

Vezina Trophy History

According to the Hockey Hall of Fame, “Leo Dandurand, Louis Letourneau, and Joe Cattarinich, former owners of the Montreal Canadiens, presented the trophy to the National Hockey League in 1926-27 in memory of Georges Vezina, the outstanding goalkeeper of the Canadiens, who collapsed during an NHL game Nov. 28, 1925, and died of tuberculosis a few months later.”

Montreal Canadiens goalie Georges Vezina. (THW Archives)

“Until the 1981-82 season,” the Hockey Hall of Fame website continues, “the goalkeeper(s) of the team allowing the fewest number of goals during the regular season were awarded the Vezina Trophy.

In 1981-82, the trophy’s definition changed. The Williams M. Jennings Trophy was introduced for the goalkeeper with the lowest goals-against average, while the Vezina Trophy then became an award for the goaltender judged to be the best at his position in the opinion of the general managers. The first Vezina Trophy went to George Hainsworth, who, ironically, replaced Georges Vezina in goal for the Montreal Canadiens.”

Because the award is subjective, the door is open for second-guessing the vote. Ben Bishop, of the Dallas Stars, finished behind Vasilevskiy in the voting despite a GAA of 1.98. New York Islanders goalie, Robin Lehner, had a save percentage of .930 and he finished third.

It bears noting that even though the goalie’s name goes on the trophy, it takes a team effort to win the award. The netminder has no control over the quality of defense in front of him. Keeping the opponent from scoring often takes an extraordinary effort by the goalie. Vasilevskiy was up to the task, but he credited the work of his teammates in accepting the honor.

Top 10 Andrei Vasilevskiy saves from 2018-19, NHL YouTube channel.

Vasilevskiy Year-to-Year Comparison

Through the Bolts’ first 53 games this season, Vasilevskiy has started 39 and again leads the league with 27 victories to date. However, his 2.53 GAA and .917 SV% are down from last season. He has faced the eighth-most shots against in 2019-20, up from 10th in 2018-19, which is probably indicative of the team’s early-season struggles as they tried to shake off the debacle of last year’s first-round playoff exit.

Returning from a three-week west coast road trip, Tampa Bay faced off against the Vegas Golden Knights Tuesday, Feb. 4. The 4-2 win gave Vasilevskiy his 16th straight point for a 14-0-2 record and tied Nikolai Khabibulin’s club record which had stood for 17 years.

Remember, there are 29 games left in this season which is plenty of time to pad the stat sheet now that the Lightning have found their Presidents’ Trophy form.

Can anything derail Vasilevskiy’s run to a second straight Vezina? Of course, he must stay healthy and his teammates must remember their embarrassing collapse in last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Lightning must also continue to play like they are determined to erase that memory from their minds and head coach Jon Cooper must give his No. 1 goalie enough starts between now and the playoffs for Vasilevskiy to continue to showcase his talents.

Cooper must find that delicate balance of razor edge competitiveness and the proper amount of rest for his team down the stretch. Winning the Stanley Cup is the only thing the Lightning are missing to validate their recent legacy and Cooper is set to chase that goal wisely this season. Vasilevskiy echoed that sentiment after receiving the Vezina Trophy last year: “My main goal is still the Stanley Cup. Of course, the Vezina, it’s good too,” he said. “I’m very happy to get it. But my main goal is the Stanley Cup, for sure.”

Cooper’s will also have to take into consideration how backup goalie Curtis McElhinney performs late in the season. A 3-0 shutout in his last start Feb. 1, against the San Jose Sharks featured a number of high-quality saves.

Highlights of the Feb 1st matchup between the Sharks and Lightning, NHL YouTube channel

Cooper must keep McElhinney sharp in case he has to call on the veteran goaltender in the postseason. It will be interesting to watch as Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy, and Cooper chase NHL history and hockey immortality.