The Vegas Golden Knights are on their way to their fourth appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This team has found a way to be successful each year since joining the league. Now, as a potential favorite to win Lord Stanley’s Cup, they have to make some decisions regarding their lineup when the postseason arrives. The main question they must answer is, “Who will be the No. 1 goalie?” The answer is rather simple: continue the split.
Regular Season Success
The Golden Knights entered the 2020-21 season with uncertainty about who their starting goaltender would be. Marc-Andre Fleury was the chosen one for Vegas as he was the star pick of the expansion draft. He was also carrying a hefty contract and it made the possibility of trading him in the offseason impossible. Robin Lehner was coming off of an impressive showing in the 2020 playoffs and was rewarded with a long-term contract extension. The combined $12 million cap hit was a hurdle that the team had to juggle all year.
In an order to please all parties, head coach Peter DeBoer decided on a goalie split between Fleury and Lehner. It started off well as the two netminders traded starts with each other. Although Lehner’s numbers were not as good as they could have been, Vegas was still managing to win games. During the first nine games of the season, Vegas won all but one of those games. This did silence some doubters as the team was able to have success with a different goalie each night. However, Lehner suffered a concussion just after this period and pushed Fleury into the starting role.
Fleury did not disappoint, as he posted numbers that put him in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy. In Lehner’s absence, Fleury had a record of 11-5-0 with three shutouts. He managed to prove people wrong and showed that he still has what had it takes to be the everyday goalie, even at 36 years old. In fact, he moved to fourth all-time on the NHL wins list during this time.
Once Lehner returned from injury, DeBoer decided to reimplement the rotation. This was surprising as many thought the Golden Knights would ease him back into the rotation. Lehner answered by only allowing one goal in his return to play. This was a great sign for Golden Knights fans as they once again had one of the best goalie combos in the NHL. In fact, the duo has a chance to bring the William M. Jennings Trophy to Las Vegas.
Since Lehner has returned from injury he has posted a record of 8-0-1 with a shutout. On the other hand, Fleury has a record of 6-4-0 with a shutout of his own. Although the numbers may seem skewed, Fleury’s losses came against teams that are currently fighting for the final playoff spot in the Honda West Division. The two seem to have readjusted, as the Golden Knights are currently on a franchise-record 10-game winning streak which has catapulted them to the top of the division.
Why the Split Should Continue
In an argument that would most likely never have been thought of at the start of the season, the Golden Knights should heavily consider keeping the current goalie rotation for the playoffs. Both of their goaltenders have been playing amazing hockey and each of them deserves to play in the postseason. Lehner has proved that he has recovered from his concussion and has not lost in regulation since returning. Fleury has also made a case for himself, by standing tall against the other top teams in the division such as the Colorado Avalanche.
It should also be stated that the two have been in this rhythm the entire year, barring Lehner’s injury. The two have adapted to the current system that DeBoer has laid out. This unconventional strategy has allowed each goalie the chance to properly rest after each appearance. Because of this, it has allowed both of them to be at the top of their games each time they head between the pipes. This is especially important come the playoffs as sometimes the team with fresher legs and healthier players has an advantage over their competitors.
Also, looking back at how the goalies were handled during the 2020 playoffs, there is plenty of room for improvement. The Golden Knights had to deal with many off-ice distractions, highlighted by a specific tweet from Fleury’s agent. Although Lehner played amazingly during this run as he was able to post four shutouts and 1.99 GAA, there were times when he could have used the rest and given the net up for a game. DeBoer is a smart coach, and he has seemed to address all the areas that the Golden Knights were lacking in throughout this season. This should continue with how he handles his two star goalies during the playoffs.
With nine games left in the regular season, a lot of things can still change. However, the Golden Knights are riding an extreme wave of momentum as the division title is all but theirs to lose. If there are no setbacks to either netminder, then Vegas should without a doubt continue their current split.
I am a former Jr. A hockey player that is currently attending school at San Diego State University. At SDSU, I study Journalism and Public Relations while also playing on the school’s rugby team. Hockey has been a big part of my life, as I have been playing since I was three years old. Other than hockey, I enjoy watching and playing all kinds of sports.