NHL fans would be ecstatic if they knew their team had an all-star goalie on the roster, backstopping their team to playoff glory. Well, Vegas Golden Knights fans should be jumping for joy if they aren’t already because the team houses not one, but two all-star goalies.
The goaltending tandem of Robin Lehner and Marc-André Fleury is arguably the best in the NHL. Lehner, a 2018-19 Vezina Trophy finalist, has rejuvenated his career in the NHL and is listed as #8 on NHL.com’s “Top 10 Goalies of 2020” list. Fleury needs no introduction, but we’ll give him one anyway. A three-time Stanley Cup champion, five-time NHL all-star and a NHL All-Decade First Team for the 2010s, Fleury’s career can be summed-up in two words: consistent success.
With two goalies of such high caliber manning the crease, it’s no wonder Vegas has the third-best odds, via Vegas Sports Books, to take it all this year, with +900 odds. Although we can’t say for certain who will take the cake this year, I would bet my money on one of them taking home the NHL’s best goalie award and them sharing another NHL accolade as well.
Vezina for Lehner
Lehner is two seasons removed from almost winning the Vezina as a member of the New York Islanders. It was a massive surprise around the NHL, as Lehner was a good goalie for most of his career but was fairly inconsistent in his play.
During the 2018 offseason, Lehner gave us a glimpse of the mental health struggles he had been dealing with since his entry into the league. He dealt with drug and alcohol addiction for the entirety of his NHL career up until that point. When it got too much for him and he checked himself into rehab, where he was subsequently diagnosed with Bipolar 1 with manic phases.
Going into the 2018-19 season, Lehner was fully sober and was ready to become the goalie he knew he was. He would go on to do exactly that. Manning the crease for the Islanders, who had allowed a league high 293 goals the prior season, Lehner took over the reins and only allowed 93 goals in 46 games, good for a 2.13 Goals Against Average (GAA).
His play would propel the Islanders to a second place finish in the Metropolitan Division and would serve as a story straight out of a movie. One year removed from rehab, Lehner was making a name for himself as one of the top goalies in the league, and a warrior in all senses of the word. He would go on to post a 25-13-5 record that season, to go along with six shutouts and a .930 Save Percentage.
His play and story touched millions in the NHL community, and at the NHL awards that off-season, it seemed Lehner was primed to take home two big awards. He would end up winning the Bill Masterton Trophy, rightfully so, but would end up losing out on the coveted Vezina Trophy, as his season numbers weren’t deemed good enough to edge out Andrei Vasilevsky.
Now, with a new contract that promises job stability, and a strong Vegas lineup in front of him, there is an endless amount of possibilities as to what Lehner can accomplish in the Golden Knights net. Having been named a Vezina finalist while playing in front of a mediocre Islanders defense that 2018-19 season, Lehner has all the odds stacked in his favour to capture that elusive trophy this year.
The Golden Knights are fielding one of the strongest defensive lineups in the NHL, with names like Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Theodore, Brayden McNabb and Alec Martinez patrolling the blue line. Currently, the Golden Knights occupy a spot on NBC Sports “Top 7 Defenses” list and The Hockey Writers very own Eugene Helfrick ranked them number five in his article, “The NHL’s Top 5 Defenses“.
With a stacked defense in front of him, and an all-star goalie behind him to take the pressure off, I would be very surprised if Lehner does not post a Vezina worthy season in his first full year in the Gold and Silver.
William M. Jennings for Both
Even if the Vezina eludes Lehner again this year, I strongly believe he’ll capture another goaltending award, specifically one he can split with his partner in crime. The William M. Jennings Trophy is an annual National Hockey League award given to “the goaltender having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals scored against it … based on regular-season play.
Lehner has already captured the trophy once in his career, winning in back in 2018-19 during his all-star season with the New York Islanders. He and his partner at the time, Thomas Greiss, combined their stellar play to secure the award, allowing only 191 goals all season between them. While Greiss is a solid goalie, he doesn’t compare to Fleury. Fleury is a future Hall of Famer, and will be splitting time with Lehner in the Vegas net this year.
In the last shortened season, Corey Crawford and Ray Emery won the Jennings, only allowing 102 goals between them. With a 2.24 GAA over Lehner’s past two seasons, and with Fleury contributing a solid 2.51 over his last three, they would be on pace to allow 133 goals between them in a 56 game season. This doesn’t come close to the mark set by Crawford and Emery in the 2012-13 season, but shutouts have not been accounted for.
Fleury has posted 17 shutouts over the past three seasons, while Lehner has kept a clean sheet 10 times over the same time frame. With those low GAA’s and their knack for securing shutouts, I would be very surprised if they do not find themselves near the leaderboard for the award come seasons’ end.
Love of the Game
As we all know, playing hockey isn’t about the individual awards, but the love of the game. Whatever transpires this shortened season, I’m sure fans of the Golden Knights are just delighted to have hockey back. It also helps that you’re team is one of the best in the league, and houses two all-star goalies, a defense for the ages and a stacked offensive lineup.
Although all these things are great, the stories behind Lehner’s comeback and Fleury’s dedication to Vegas are winners on their own. Whether they end up winning an award, or don’t, it doesn’t really matter. Both have captured the hearts of Golden Knights fans and deep down, we all know, they’re winners no matter what.
Michael Vidakis is a Montreal native who writes for the Vegas Golden Knights team here at The Hockey Writers. In his spare time, he enjoys the finer things in life such as Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, staring aimlessly outside windows and tangerines.