Robin Lehner has had an inconsistent first season as the Vegas Golden Knight’s full-fledged starter. Most of this has to do with the injuries that he has dealt with. But now during the stretch run, he is starting to regain his confidence and play up to the level we all know he is capable of.
“He made some big saves for us. That is a tough game for a goalie to play because there were not a lot of chances but they had some quality looks as the pressure at different moments of the game and it could have swung the other way if he was average or below average,” said head coach Peter DeBoer after Lehner and the Golden Knights defeated the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night.
Lehner recently returned to the Golden Knights after missing nearly a month with a lower-body injury. Contrary to some reports, Lehner did not have surgery and has since rejoined his team. He has started the last three games and split two games against the Canucks and also beat the Coyotes.
The adjustment period for Lehner returning from injury is off to a solid start.
“When you are out for a month it takes some time. I felt a little bit more calm today. There are still a few things but I need to keep working on here down the stretch,” said Lehner after Saturday’s game.
Some Minor Adjustments
The ‘few things’ that Lehner mentioned center mostly around his positioning after making the initial save. Ice is slippery, yes, but Lehner has had the tendency to slide far out of his net while making saves. It has forced him to make more desperation saves as a result.
For a six-foot-four 240 pound goaltender, he likes to come out of his net to challenge the shooter to cut down the angle a lot. Lehner is aware of this minor flaw in the game and is motivated to fix it.
“There are a few things I want to keep working on. I have been swimming around a little bit and rolling around a little bit too much, but it will come” said Lehner.
The Stretch Run
While Lehner’s play is rapidly improving, the Golden Knights are in a spot where they need him to be the best he can be as soon as possible. For the first time in franchise history, the VGK are in a late-season battle to make the playoffs.
Things are constantly changing, but at the time of this writing, the Golden Knights have the same amount of points as the Dallas Stars. They are out of a playoff spot with 86 points.
Here is an updated look at the Western Conference Standings, but my point here is simple, the Golden Knights need the best from Lehner, or whoever their goaltender is, to make the playoffs.
Nurturing Lehner back to a level that was comfortable enough for him to return was where Logan Thompson came into the picture. Thompson started eight-straight games in March and early April. He proved to be a reliable and solid option for the VGK and is still up in the NHL.
What’s Going on With LB?
As for the other goaltender in the system, Laurent Brossoit is currently out with an injury. As Thompson slowly took Brossoit’s job as the go-to-goalie with Lehner out, Brossoit then got injured himself. His last game was on the Ides of March and his injury is listed as undisclosed. He has not been practicing either.
It will be interesting to see what head coach Peter DeBoer ends up doing once Brossoit recovers. Does he keep the youngster Thompson in the lineup based on his play? Or does he send him back to the Henderson Silver Knights for the remainder of the season and then reconvene at training camp?
A Short Leash
While Lehner has been solid in these last couple of games, the Golden Knights need to keep him on a short least if things go south. With Thompson now a solid option and the remaining games going extinct for the Golden Knights, they need the best goaltending performance possible.
Whatever goaltender ends up playing for the Golden Knights to finish out the stretch run, they need to be better than average. They need to be able to make the saves that they are ‘not supposed to make’ and give the Golden Knights the best chance to win each and every one of their nine remaining games.
The Golden Knights are in an unfamiliar position sitting right on the playoff line. This is where we will truly see not only what the team is made of, but what Lehner and Thompson are made of as well.