It’s been a long 40 days for Robin Lehner. Friday looked like he was never gone.
If there was any doubt of rust after spending a month and some change recovering from a concussion, Lehner didn’t show it. He made 23 saves in his first start since Feb. 7 and the Vegas Golden Knights won 4-2 against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center.
“With what he’s gone through the last five weeks, the ups and downs of a concussion to begin with, and then you throw in some of the other things that he’s talked about, it hasn’t been an easy journey,” said coach Pete DeBoer, “but he’s worked hard, and I know the guys wanted to play hard for him tonight.”
This season has been far from ideal for Lehner. His first campaign since signing that five-year, $25 million extension in the offseason with Vegas, Lehner entered Saturday 3-1-1 with a GAA near 3.00 and a save percentage below .900.
Safe to say the bar was low, but it was Lehner’s best performance of the season.
The Golden Knights did a good job keeping mostly everything to the outside. The bulk of Los Angeles’ attempts were low-danger (11). More importantly, Vegas held the Kings to 13 combined shots in the final 40 minutes after being out-shot 12-11 in the first period.
The 11th shot from the Kings ruined what was an otherwise great period from the Golden Knights. Alex Iafallo batted in a rebound with 18 seconds remaining to cut the lead to 2-1.
Trevor Moore’s goal that tied it 2-2 was a perfect deflection with traffic surrounding Lehner. Other than that, the goalie did his job while his teammates worked well in front of him.
Those were the only blemishes on Lehner’s night, if you can call them blemishes. He looked like the goalie Vegas needs him to be, albeit against a team outside the playoff picture, but one that has shown to play tough in this condensed season.
“I thought everybody on our team played a strong game tonight, Robin obviously included,” said Max Pacioretty, who scored twice on Friday. “It’s not easy to come back after such a long time off. He picked up and fit in right away, which was nice to see. It was nice to get the win for Robin, but he deserved it, as well.”
Lehner’s biggest save came at a crucial time with the Kings trying to tie the game. Los Angeles had a 3-on-1 at the 1:57 mark of the second period, and Lehner went left to right to get a pad on Tobias Bjornfot in front.
Big man can move when he wants to. pic.twitter.com/E3dJTOw56r
— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) March 20, 2021
After that, it was a relatively quiet night for Lehner. The only other dangerous attempts came on a late Kings power play when trying to tie the game; Los Angeles had three attempts, but Lehner stopped each of them.
“I liked our first period, but we did allow them to get some pucks to the net that we don’t typically allow,” DeBoer said. “I loved our second period and thought with the long change, we controlled the ice. We held on to pucks, we really kept them pinned in their zone for long stretches. I thought we played a real tidy game from a system point of view.”
Even with Lehner out, the Golden Knights have stayed afloat and have risen to the top of the NHL standings. Marc-Andre Fleury started 17 of the last 18, and 16 of 17 with Lehner out, going 12-5-0 in that stretch.
“We needed to start to give Flower some rest,” DeBoer said. “If Lenny wasn’t healthy, we would’ve gone to Plan B.”
The Golden Knights finally reached the midway mark of the season with a 21-6-1 mark. Their .768 points percentage is once again tops in the NHL. Despite false-positive COVID tests to Fleury and William Karlsson, losing Alex Pietrangelo and Tomas Nosek due to COVID, and even Lehner to his concussion, the Golden Knights are where they expected to be.
Now with their $12 million goaltending tandem back, Vegas is hitting this second half of the season off and running.
“Any good team has two good goalies, and I think we’re lucky enough to have two of the best goalies in the league,” said forward William Carrier. “It gives Flower a little break, gets Lenny in there. It’s going to be a plus for us. If we just rotate, Flower and Lenny, give the other one some rest, it’ll be good for us.”