**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are expected to start next weekend and it’s time for Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer to make what will be the biggest decision of his tenure with Vegas.
Who starts in goal for Game 1?
DeBoer has three options. One, he can go with Marc-Andre Fleury, who has three championship rings. Two, he can play Robin Lehner, who has played well in the past during the postseason but whose name doesn’t appear on the Cup. Option Three is to keep the status quo and maintain the $12 million experiment and rotate Fleury and Lehner.
If he keeps the rotation going, DeBoer breaks with conventional wisdom which is you play one guy and you ride him as far as you can. But this year has been anything but conventional and should DeBoer continue to rotate his goalies in the playoffs, would it shock you if it worked?
Both have done the job and are capable of getting hot. Lehner has played well since returning from a concussion he suffered in February. At times, he has been spectacular, as was the case in overtime in Friday’s 4-3 win over the Blues. He even assisted on Jonathan Marchessault’s game-winner. But from an overall perspective, he is certainly worthy of consideration should DeBoer opt for one goalie.
Fleury has had an outstanding season. He has been dialed in since training camp and he came prepared to win the starter’s job. When Lehner went down with a concussion and missed 18 games, Fleury took on the added workload and delivered. He last lost back on April 7 and is riding an eight-game win streak.
To both goalies’ credit, they handled the rotation plan well. They appear to be supportive of each other and they are looking at winning the Jennings Trophy, which goes to the top goaltending tandem that allows the fewest goals.
Their styles are different. They have their strengths and weaknesses like any player. Both are extremely competitive, which is what you want from those who play the position.
So what should DeBoer do? Or more important, what will he likely do?
A lot may depend on who the Knights play in the first round. St. Louis appears to be the opponent and DeBoer may opt to play one goalie in the series and perhaps go back to the other should the Knights advance and depending on whether the opponent is Colorado or Minnesota.
The numbers vs. the Blues are fairly even. Lehner is 3-0-1 with a 2.17 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage. Fleury is 3-1 with a 2.65 GAA and a .917 save percentage.
Fleury has played all seven games against the Avalanche so far and is 4-3, one of the losses coming in the outdoor game at Lake Tahoe. But if the rotation holds, it will be Lehner’s turn Monday. It is looming as a showdown for first place so it might be looked at as a dress rehearsal for the playoffs for Lehner as it pertains to the Avs.
Things are a bit more problematic against Minnesota. The team has not played well overall vs. the Wild, going 3-4-1. Fleury went 3-3 against Minnesota but who’s to say Lehner might not be the better fit? That’s something DeBoer will have to consider if and when the Knights face the Wild.
I’d like to see the $12 million experiment continue into the playoffs, at least until someone proves they are not worthy of playing. It has been working for the most part and I think the defensemen and forwards are going to play hard regardless of who is between the pipes. Fleury is the far more experienced playoff goaltender and he has done nothing with his play to discourage DeBoer from using him. But Lehner has gotten better since his return to the lineup and he has made his case to stay on the ice.
There’s also the intangible of harmony to consider. Do we want a repeat episode of last summer where agents are tweeting disparaging images and creating firestorms? Right now, everyone appears comfortable with the rotation of Fleury and Lehner as Alec Martinez, Brayden McNabb and the rest of the D continue to block shots, no matter who is in net.
Hockey players, like other pro athletes, are creatures of habit. They get into their routine and they don’t like disruptions. If the coach is rotating the goaltenders and the team is winning as a result, you’d be hard-pressed to justify suddenly changing the system just because tradition says you’re supposed to.
For all we know, DeBoer is still wrestling with his plan. We’re at the point however where his “All bets are off” comment from training camp has come due and it’s time to make a decision, one way or the other.
**Steve Carp is the author of “Vegas Born — The remarkable story of the Golden Knights.” Follow him on Twitter @stevecarp56. All of Steve Carp’s work here on SinBin.vegas is presented to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm. For over twenty-five years, the Jimmerson Law Firm has been widely recognized as one of Las Vegas’s preeminent full-service law firms. Specializing in high stakes business, civil and family litigation, the Jimmerson Law Firm has an unparalleled track record of winning when it matters most. To reach the Jimmerson Law Firm, call (702) 388-7171 and tell them SinBin.vegas sent you.**
If you got to choose what the Golden Knights were going to do in net to start the postseason, what would you choose?
— SinBin.vegas (@SinBinVegas) May 9, 2021