Ride or die with Marc-Andre Fleury or roll the dice with Robin Lehner? Golden Knights Head Coach Pete DeBoer has maintained that he has “full confidence” in both goaltenders. Which one will get the nod for the elimination game in Montreal?
Fleury (29) and Lehner (90) celebrate
USA Today Sports
It truly could be either man. DeBoer has shown no hesitation using Lehner in big moments. Last season, he chose to ride Lehner after giving both goalies a 50/50 share of the starts to close the 2019-20 (not-so-)regular season. Lehner rewarded him with a series win.
This season, Fleury has been the horse. He outplayed Lehner to start the year and held up admirably when Lehner missed time with a concussion. Although Logan Thompson turned out to be an amazing acquisition, the organization’s lack of NHL-ready goaltending forced Fleury into a ton of work. He’s 36-years-old with plenty of mileage.
Between February 9 and March 17, Fleury played 17 games, amassing a 12-5-0 record with three shutouts and a .931 save percentage. He looked like he was still in his prime and showed no signs of slowing down. The team rode him to the top of the Honda West Division.
Fleury: 15 GP, 10-5-0 record, .922 SV%, 2 SO
Lehner: 14 GP, 10-3-1 record, .921 SV%, 1 SO
Once he returned, Lehner was utilized just as regularly as he was prior to the concussion. Once again, his play validated the faith his coach openly has in him. Come playoff time, DeBoer chose to ride Fleury through an up-and-down, hard-fought, seven game series against the Minnesota Wild.
Despite the three losses, Fleury never allowed more than three goals in a game. The veteran even collected a road shutout in Game Four, before two subpar games in Five and Six. They were able to squeak out Game Seven, Fleury’s seventh start in 13 days.
After sweeping the St. Louis Blues, the Colorado Avalanche were sitting around, patiently waiting on their second round opponent. Needless to say, the club was fresh and ready to go for Game One against the Golden Knights.
Vegas just won a grueling seven game series against the Wild, then had to play the President’s Trophy winners just two days later. Looking to give his starter some rest, DeBoer started Lehner in Game One. It was Lehner’s first start in 20 days.
A team with that much firepower and multiple days of rest, against a goalie making his first start in 20 days, seems asinine, especially in hindsight. We all know how that game went.
Colorado won a 7-1 drubbing, that probably should’ve been worse. Lehner played well, but the team in front of him was visibly spent. They didn’t bring a solid effort and rightfully so. After that blow up, Fleury took back over and the team coincidentally played much better in front of him.
Fleury helped the team dispatch the Colorado Avalanche in six games, including winning four straight. He was impressive, outplaying a fellow Vezina Trophy finalist in Philip Grubauer. Things haven’t been as bright against Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens.
Fleury: 4 GP, 1-3-0 record, 10 GA, .904 SV%
Price: 5 GP, 3-2-0 record, 11 GA, .929 SV%
Lehner: 1 GP, 1-0-0 record, 1 GA, .964 SV%
Many factors play a part in these stats, but to this point in the series Price has outplayed Fleury. With the exception of Game One, Price has been phenomenal and the Golden Knights’ offense has been unable to crack him. Of their 11 goals scored, just four have come from a forward. Nic Roy leads all VGK forwards with two goals.
Alex Pietrangelo has earned his $8.5 million cap hit, as a catalyst in all aspects of the game. He’s picked up three goals - including the only two in their Game Two loss - and carries a plus-2 rating, while averaging 27:23 TOI for the series. He’s been an animal, a workhorse, if you will. He’s tasted the cup (with St. Louis) and wants to get there again.
Regardless of the other factors, Lehner played great in his one start, allowing one goal (a breakaway) on his way to the win. He and Fleury have both won one game, with the backup doing it much more effectively. He’d never admit it, but it’s conceivable to think that Fleury is wearing down.
It has been a long season. A condensed 56-game schedule, with stretches of COVID-list absences has taken a toll on these players. Fleury is a 36-year-old goaltender who has been a full-time starter since being selected first overall by the Penguins in 2001-02. His workload, the schedule, and the first two round have obviously taken a toll.
His play has slipped, not to say he’s the sole reason for their losses, but he can’t be expected to be prime Fleury at this point of the year. Using the younger, fresher Lehner could be beneficial to the Golden Knights, who are now one game away from elimination.
He’s been used in big spots before. He’s performed well after inactivity. He even uses Twitter hate to pump him up for games.
Following his lone start of the series, Lehner shared that he rides his own bus to the games, early enough to read the social media chatter.
”I sat here for two hours to watch you guys talk **** on Twitter on me, to get me motivated and you know, it was great just to see what people had to say.
I don’t care what people think.”
- Robin Lehner
Lehner talked about how he’s been battling to be a good teammate and to be ready to play. He looked the part in his only start of this round and with him back at 100%, the Golden Knights should take a long, hard look at handing the keys to him.
Fleury has done his job, now it’s time for Lehner to be the closer. With no room for error, the Golden Knights can’t risk another sub-.901 SV% performance out of Fleury. His gaffe with the puck in Game Four aside, Fleury hasn’t been the lights-out guy the Vegas fans obsess over. A change needs to be made, DeBoer will not be afraid to do it.
Their top-six has been dormant. Their Power Play, atrocious. They’ve already shuffled lines, there’s only one drastic change left to make. Will it save the series or are the Golden Knights done? Is Lehner their save-ior or will they be picking Flowers this weekend?
Game Six is scheduled for a 5:00 PM Pacific start, broadcast nationally on the USA Network. Follow along before and during the game, for live observations and updates!
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