There is a reason why Tampa Bay Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy is a Vezina Trophy finalist this season and previously won it back in 2019. He is a premier goaltender in the National Hockey League, and the playoffs seem to bring out the best in him.
As hard as he is to beat on a nightly basis, the New York Islanders have shown this series that he can be beaten. Like a video game, the skill of the opposing netminders has increased from round to round, and Vasilevskiy has been top boss but not unbeatable.
Vasilevskiy had made opposing teams earn their goals, and so far, the Islanders have done just that due to hard work around the crease and strong shots.
The Islanders have scored 11 goals in this series through six games, which averages out to 1.83 goals per game. Vasilevskiy has been outstanding with highlight-reel saves, but fortunately for the Islanders, they have scored some timely goals to pick up wins.
The Islanders have realized what they have to do to have success against the 26-year old superstar netminder. And it is the same formula to beat any premiere netminder in the NHL. That is by lifting the puck and getting traffic in front to ensure that if there is a rebound, it is uncontrollable.
Out of the 11 goals Vasilevskiy has allowed this series, only one puck has beaten him down low, cleanly. That came on the first goal of the series, a Mat Barzal breakaway goal through the wickets to give the Islanders a lead in Game 1.
Another look at Barzal on the breakaway! pic.twitter.com/wAn1dsNBOo
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) June 13, 2021
Six of the last 10 goals for the Islanders have come off elevated shots, while four have come off rebounds. And traffic has played a focal point in the majority of them.
For such a big netminder in Vasilevskiy, who stands at 6’3 weighing 207 lbs, he drops before every shot, like every goaltender in the league. That has left him susceptible to getting beat high. Two goals that stand out are the opening tally in Game 4 off the stick of Josh Bailey and then the most recent goal in Game 6, which was the overtime winner off the stick of Anthony Beauvillier.
Both were scored in a similar fashion and showcased even the best of the best have their weaknesses.
While one was closer than the other, #Isles opening tally in Game 4 (Bailey)and their OT winner in Game 6 (Beauvillier) came by moving laterally from right to left and shooting back high-glove to beat #GoBolts Andrei Vasilevskiy. pic.twitter.com/y8BgQIRVvC
— Stefen Rosner (@stefen_rosner) June 24, 2021
That lateral movement across the slot when the puck gets shot the other way is one of the harder shots to stop. The goaltender wants to move with the player and sometimes gets caught off their angle and on Wednesday’s game-winner, Vasilevskiy dropped as he moved, leaving the top right corner open for business.
A goaltender with the skillset that Vasilevskiy possesses usually makes the save when he can see the shot cleanly. Bailey’s goal in Game 4 had traffic in front and Beauvillier’s winner came off an ill-advised turnover right in front. But the majority of goals in this series for the Islanders have come when there is some sort of traffic in front whether it has been an Islanders forward or Lightning defensemen.
Despite the big-time saves, Vasilevskiy’s rebound control has not been all too strong this series. That is not to say it is his fault, as he has not received support from his team after some big-time saves. The Islanders’ willingness to crash the net hard, and be ready for the rebound has paid off. At times, Islanders have been left wide-open to deposit pucks.
Barzal’s Game 4 tap-in stands out as well as Mat Martin’s Game 4 game-winner.
Mathew Barzal. The easiest goal of his career. pic.twitter.com/JmKRTlx5yb
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) June 20, 2021
Matt Martin makes it 3-0 for the @NYIslanders
— Hockey Night in Canada (@hockeynight) June 20, 2021
In both instances, those forwards read the play and were able to get to the puck quickly with zero hesitation to get the shot off. Both goals also do not happen if the Islanders fail to throw pucks at the net.
That last point, getting shots on the net, is something the Islanders still are hesitant to do. It has often plagued the Islanders, as when a chance is there, hesitation leads to missed opportunities.
The Islanders need to put shots on net, especially in the postseason where chances are slim. Shots with no traffic in front are more likely to be deposited into the corner by Vasilevskiy with ease while also boosting his confidence.
On each forward line, the Islanders have players that can stand in front. Islanders head coach Barry Trotz has flip-flopped Leo Komarov and Kyle Palmieri, but both can fill that role on whatever line they are on. Brock Nelson is a big body, and quite frankly, anyone on the fourth line can make it difficult on Vasilevskiy.
Traffic just needs to happen more often.
Now in a Game 7, on Amalie Arena ice, Vasilevskiy will be at his best. He is 12-0, allowing under 1.50 goals following a loss this postseason.
The Islanders know how to beat Vasilevskiy. They will need to continue to do what has worked to come out of Game 7 victorious and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1984.