“Not a chance I’m confirming that,” said Pete DeBoer when asked about it after today’s morning skate. Yet Robin Lehner was the first goaltender off the ice for the Vegas Golden Knights at the Bell Center. Even if the head coach won’t make it official, it looks like Lehner will get his first start of the series tonight against the Montreal Canadiens.
I don’t like it. Not one bit.
The timing is curious. Down 2-1 on the road is an odd time to start a goalie who has played exactly one game in the last 40 days and was shelled last time out. Lehner has not shown himself to the type of goaltender who can come in and stand on his head. He is far more effective when he’s getting regular work and feeling his groove. I don’t blame him for the loss to Colorado because I think Marc-Andre Fleury would have lost that game as well. I also believe Fleury would not have allowed seven goals against.
Lehner starts slowly when he hasn’t played in a long time, and I think that’s a bad combination with a Vegas Golden Knights team that also starts slowly. His propensity to give up a soft goal in the first period is at best a momentum killer, and at worst a mental back-breaker.
Yet for whatever reason, I can’t shake the feeling I quickly developed when DeBoer took over the team from Gerard Gallant that he simply doesn’t like Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury was quickly dismissed by DeBoer and after the Golden Knights acquired Robin Lehner, he seemed to be used grudgingly. Maybe that’s my personal perception bias, and I almost never hear anyone else share that feeling. So maybe I’m way out on this. But I don’t think so.
If Pete DeBoer wanted to rotate between Fleury and Lehner all playoffs, I’d feel differently about this. Lehner getting more regular work would make sense to me. He’d be fresh but also sharper. I don’t have a problem with a 1A/1B setup, and in fact when both guys are going I think the Golden Knights have one of the best tandems in the entire NHL. But dropping Lehner into this situation when clearly Fleury has been the horse you’ve ridden this far smacks of desperation to fire up a team that isn’t scoring enough goals to win. The problem is that’s not a goaltending issue, that’s a coaching issue. Montreal is shutting down the Golden Knights and Vegas hasn’t shown a response since Game One. If you’re counting on the emotional boost (or maybe frightening your team into playing better) with starting Robin Lehner, it’s going to be short-lived. Maybe the VGK can jump out by a few goals and settle in. But I doubt it.
The problem isn’t in net. The problem is in the other team’s net.