Yes, I’m fully aware that this could all be a moot point come Friday.
As of now, the point stands: Whatever’s going on with Robin Lehner needs to be addressed soon.
Sunday will have been a month since Lehner last played a game with the Vegas Golden Knights. The goalie, who signed a five-year, $25 million extension with Vegas in the offseason, has not been available since Feb. 9 due to an upper-body injury.
In that time, the Golden Knights have had to rely on Marc-Andre Fleury to carry them to first place in the West Division — by points and points percentage — through 10 consecutive starts. Fleury made 36 saves on Wednesday in a 5-1 win for the Golden Knights’ fourth consecutive victory.
When the Golden Knights chose to commit $12 million in goaltending for this season, it was primarily due to this 56-game COVID-caused schedule. The Golden Knights were dedicated to splitting Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner for as long as they could until they couldn’t any longer.
But, again, we’re a month into this. What was a “tweak” at morning skate on Feb. 11 has become concerning. What wasn’t considered long-term has become just that.
“I think it’s one of those injuries that when you get it, you hope it’s a week but it’s all based on symptoms & becoming symptom-free,” said Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer on Monday. “There is no timeline on those types of injuries.”
Lehner is 3-1-0 with an .890 save percentage and 2.96 goals-against average this season. His performance in the Stanley Cup Playoff bubble warranted that extension (9-7, 1.99 GAA, .917 SV%).
Right now, that cap hit is a gaping hole in the Vegas ledger.
Lehner underwent offseason shoulder surgery upon returning from Edmonton. It was deemed as “clean-up” work, and the issue lingering is not that of the shoulder, according to a source.
It can be a variety of upper-body ailments plaguing Lehner at this point, but the source would not go any further than that. This is where transparency, as it relates to injuries in the NHL, would be worthwhile.
Now we’ve reached an impasse. Fleury is at a Vezina-like level, the Golden Knights keep winning, and the lack of travel has yet to tax the 36-year-old goalie.
It’s going to be a test over the next nine days. The Golden Knights will play six games, all on the road, with two back-to-backs on the schedule. The first begins Friday against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center.
If there was a time to dip into the goalie depth pool, it would be now.
The Henderson Silver Knights will be on the road for the next five games. It’s expected that Logan Thompson, the AHL’s goalie of the month for February, will be available for most of them.
Oscar Dansk remains the Vegas backup.
Fleury could very well go all six games on this road trip. It wouldn’t be shocking at this point to see that competitive fire burn each time. This is the same author who was wrong on many occasions in thinking Malcolm Subban would get one game, and then see him sit on the bench the next night.
But it might be time to see what the Golden Knights have in the goalie pipeline, and whether Dansk is a reliable option. Dansk allowed six goals on 37 shots in his last NHL start, Oct. 21, 2019, at Philadelphia.
Thompson might also be an option after a strong 4-1-0 start with Henderson. The 23-year-old Thompson isn’t that far removed from being with the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL, but there are a lot of people within the Golden Knights organization who love Thompson’s athleticism.
The Golden Knights would prefer to have their full $12 million investment with the 20-game mark on the horizon. But with no return in sight for Robin Lehner, something has to give.