The Lightning is looking to rebound from a massively disappointing season last year – many picked them to challenge for the Stanley Cup – when they missed the playoffs altogether.
There were many reasons why the Bolts failed to live up to expectations. Superstar free-agent to be Steven Stamkos defied months of rumors by resigning with the team that drafted him but was lost early on with a knee injury that kept him out for the year.
Shoddy defense, inconsistent goaltending and an inability to win key games doomed the team to barely miss the postseason despite 42 wins.
The organization made moves to ensure that it would not happen again and offloaded such talented stars as goalie Ben Bishop, mercurial but talented winger Jonathan Drouin and others who had been key contributors to the team’s resurgence.
What a difference a year made. The Lightning currently has the best record in the NHL with 29 wins and sixty points and is currently working its way through the early stages of a grueling January road trip.
The first two games on this brutal gauntlet have been Lightning wins largely thanks of the phenomenal play of 23-year-old goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy who shut down the mighty Columbus Bluejackets on New Year’s Eve and blanked the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) January 3, 2018
It was the Russian youngster’s sixth shutout and he has quietly become one of the NHL’s finest goalies after the Bolts traded longtime netminder Ben Bishop last spring.
Vasilevskiy is already getting lots of buzz for the Vezina Trophy for the league’s best goaltender.
The @TBLightning are the first team to 60 points annnnnd Andrei Vasilevskiy continues his dominance.
— NHL (@NHL) January 3, 2018
Andrei Vasilevskiy hasn't allowed a goal in a mere 164:29 of hockey.
— Matt Sammon (@SammonSez) January 3, 2018
Helping his cause is an improved defense, much of it comes from rookie stud and fellow Russian Mikhail Sergachev who was the key piece in the Jonathan Drouin trade. The 19-year-old has become a key player and smashed to pieces the idea that he would need time in the minors for seasoning. Sergachev actually leads Drouin in scoring making this trade look like an early steal for GM Steve Yzerman.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) December 28, 2017
A fully healthy and motivated Stamkos is also back and already has 49 points including 32 assists.
Another Russian player, winger Nikita Kucherov is already a budding superstar at only 24-years-old and has 56 points and 25 goals. Yzerman learned much during his tenure with the Detroit Red Wings when the NHL’s last dynasty was able to stock their roster with Russian talent.
The team also has depth and scoring making them a threat to go all the way as long as the injury bug doesn’t hit again this year.
The key to winning multiple Stanley Cups is a great goalie and in Vasilevskiy, the Lightning has this piece already in place.