With the Vegas Golden Knights' season hanging on the edge of a cliff, head coach Pete DeBoer has taken aim at Robin Lehner. Justin Cuthbert weighs in on the history repeating itself.
JUSTIN CUTHBERT: The most intriguing team to watch over the next week and a half or so has to be the Vegas Golden Knights. They had a huge victory Wednesday night over the Washington Capitals. And shout out to Alexander Ovechkin, who reached 50 goals for the ninth time in that loss.
But it was Shea Theodore who wanted in overtime for Vegas, putting two points in the bag for the Golden Knights. And they are just two points back now with four games to play in the race for the final wild card or Pacific Division spot. The Dallas Stars have a game in hand in the race for the wild card, in addition to being two points ahead, but Vegas still has a lot of control over what goes down over the next 10 days or so.
But the result of the game and what it means for the postseason race steps towards getting into the playoffs in a season and salvaging a season that carried with it so much expectation isn't as interesting as what happened underneath the surface, the subplot of that game and of that night in Vegas. Because what we have after that game is another DeBoer versus a starting goaltender situation shaping up, another Photoshop opportunity. So Pete DeBoer hammered Robin Lehner for his role in a 3-2 loss to the Devils the previous night, a very consequential loss for the Vegas Golden Knights.
They were, of course, able to make up for it a little bit with the win over Washington. But still, Pete DeBoer went after him and then went back to him for the game against Washington. Lehner, in the first period, made 12 saves on 13 shots. It was deadlocked at one after the first period.
Nothing really to write home about. But, to start the second period, Logan Thompson, who Deborah suggested was the team's most consistent netminder, and keep in mind Laurent Brossoit has been unavailable due to injury, and who was the team's start third netminder by a far margin entering the season. It was Lehner and it was Brossoit after the Fleury regime ended.
It was Thompson who came out for the second and it was Thompson who ended up winning that game. Now again, Lehner had only given up one goal on 13 shots in a competitive first period. This was DeBoer's reasoning for making that change.
And, I quote, "The decision to start, we pay him to start games like this. It's the most important time of year. He's healthy, he's fresh, he's got a lot of energy and we need him at this point in the year. After the New Jersey game, I felt like I wanted to give him an opportunity to bounce back and have a big game for us.
On the decision to change, I really liked our start. We gave up that first goal and I thought we looked like a team that was rattled for the rest of the period. I was just trying to switch some momentum, reset ourselves, and get ready for the rest of the game."
OK, so that may be how he feels. That may actually be the reality too. The team could be not responding to Lehner or responding to Thompson, something of that nature. And Lehner hasn't been great.
This has been his worst season since he left Buffalo, clearly. However, the more likely scenario, I think here, and based on what we've seen historically, is that DeBoer's main weakness as a coach, his Achilles heel as an NHL head coach, is the management of his netminders. I mentioned the new, shiny toy earlier, that Lehner was that, right?
Lehner was the new, shiny toy. Because it was once Fluery's regime. This isn't the first time that DeBoer has turned on a netminder. He turned on Marc-Andre Fleury.
We know that story. We know how that went down with Fleury and Allan Walsh. DeBoer preferred Lehner over Fleury two years ago. Walsh took exception to that, released the Photoshop to end all Photoshop's, at least in terms of NHL Twitter, and it was sort of it looked like that was the end.
It looked like DeBoer preferred Lehner and that's the way it was going to go. It was as though DeBoer had betrayed the greatest and most important player in the Vegas Golden Knights young history and that it was over. That was just his preference. That was the organization's preference.
That's why they went out and got Lehner in the first place and they were ready to move on from Fleury. But then DeBoer had to go back to Fleury, because Robin Lehner last season was largely unavailable due to injury as well. Fleury goes on to win the Vezina Trophy, he carried the load in the playoffs, all the way to the third round. And yet Vegas still decided, because they had already made up their mind, right?
That it was time to trade him. not cashing in on a value or an asset that had increased value, they literally just dumped him on the Chicago Blackhawks because they felt they were spending too much on goal-tending and they preferred the cheaper, but I think they believed more capable, Robin Lehner. So this is a pattern. Fleury to Lehner, now Lehner to Thompson.
DeBoer has been far too quick to blame issues and disappointments that the organization and team has suffered on his netminders since he, ironically, became the shiny, new toy himself when management chose him over Gerard Gallant, despite all the success that Gerard Gallant had with the original misfits going to the Stanley Cup Final in year one and having success after that. The thing is though, despite what DeBoer might believe to be true, the level of ability from Fleury to Lehner to Thompson, it decreases with every reflexive decision he's made as he seems to outsmart himself. It is possible that Thompson is the best option, but he doesn't have the same ceiling.
And can Thompson help Vegas accomplish its ultimate goal here in this season that carried with it so much importance, as I mentioned, eyes on winning the Stanley Cup? I don't think so. Lehner could maybe do that if he was at the peak of his powers. Suddenly, it's become about the bare minimum, making the playoffs, when it's never been about the bare minimum ever in Vegas.