Wednesday was a must-win for the Golden Knights, but they’re all must-win now. With Vegas looking up at L..A. in the last Pacific playoff spot, and with Vancouver still in spitting distance, these games are as high-leverage as any they played while reaching the final four in each of the last two seasons. One thing which might be nice for a team in this position would be to know who its go-to goalie is. Last night, to the surprise of many but only for 20 minutes, that was Robin Lehner.
“We pay him to start games like this,” head coach Pete DeBoer said.
Lehner has been pretty bad since returning from injury earlier this month, and rookie Logan Thompson has been pretty good, so especially after Lehner took the loss to the woeful Devils on Monday, it could have been assumed that the question was settled. Not so, and after Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime win against the Capitals—they won the must-win, for however much that’ll prove to be worth—it’s less clear than ever who’s the man in net in Vegas.
Lehner was yanked for Thompson after the first period, and if you’re expecting to see that he got shelled, I was too. But no. Lehner allowed one goal, stopping 12 of 13 shots, not generally a statline that calls for a goalie change. Yes, he’d probably like to have this one back, but show me a damn goalie who hasn’t been shredded by an Ovechkin slapper from there:
So, what happened? DeBoer said Lehner is 100 percent healthy, so it’s not that. He would venture only that he thought the team was rattled by that first goal. It should be noted that Ovechkin proceeded to score twice on Thompson. No word on if the Knights were double-rattled by those.
“As a goalie partner, you don’t like to be in that situation,” Thompson said. That situation is entirely one of Vegas’s own making. It didn’t have to be this way.
This is a team that had its franchise goaltender! Under contract! He won the damn Vezina last year and everything! The cynical trade of Marc-Andre Fleury to ease a cap crunch (another situation entirely of Vegas’s own making, so let’s not pretend it was inevitable) is probably not coincidental with Vegas being on the outside of the playoff race for the first time in its history. Fleury hasn’t been quite as sharp this year, but he’s been consistent—a quality rarely appreciated except in its absence—and he’s been good enough that another contender went out and got him at the deadline. Vegas’s squandering is Minnesota’s gain. Allan Walsh must be doing cartwheels.
If looking backward does Vegas no favors, neither does it do them any good. They’ve got to go play out the stretch with what they’ve got, even if what they’ve got is a big ol’ collection of question marks.
“It’s been an interesting year between (Laurent) Broissoit has been hurt, (Lehner) has been hurt at different points and then obviously a family issue last week that took him out,” DeBoer said. “So, (Thompson) has been consistent in what he’s brought for me in a really tough spot. I think he’s the one guy that has been there and given us what he could.
“The other guys, some through circumstances beyond their control—and I get that—but it’s been tough getting some consistency there.”
Again, Lehner stopped 12 of 13 and got yanked. That’s why we’re here, now, wondering if he’s played his last game for the Golden Knights, and what his confidence might look like in the not-unimaginable scenario that a rookie wilts under the sustained pressure of a playoff chase (and playoffs?), and Lehner is back in net. However it plays out for Vegas, this has been a season of unforced errors.