Fans of the Golden Knights had one question on their mind for most of the team’s 7-1 defeat at the hands of the Avalanche: Why is Robin Lehner starting over Marc-Andre Fleury?
Fleury had started all seven of Vegas’ first-round games against the Wild, but coach Peter DeBoer pivoted to Lehner in net for Game 1 of the Golden Knights vs. Avalanche series.
DeBoer had his reasons for making the switch. And as the veteran coach explained, it was the “perfect opportunity” to give Fleury a bit of a break.
“The decision to go with Robin was [Fleury] just played seven games in 14 days, and an emotional Game 7,” DeBoer said, per ESPN’s Emily Kaplan. “It was a perfect opportunity in our minds to use our other starter. That’s been a strength of ours all year. We wanted Robin to get in a game and stay sharp, in case we needed him. So there was a lot of rationale to it.”
On paper, that argument may make some sense. After all, Lehner is a solid goalie who played well during the regular season. And Fleury is 36, so a little extra rest could help him.
Even still though, Lehner hadn’t played in 20 days before being on the ice Sunday. That was always going to make him a risky start. Plus, NHL teams tend to stick with a one-goalie approach during the postseason, especially if they have a goalie that’s playing well at their disposal.
Fleury certainly was doing that against Minnesota. He posted a .931 save percentage and 1.71 goals against average in the first round of the playoffs while leading his team to a series victory. And in five of the seven games, Fleury allowed two or fewer goals.
Also, while Lehner played well during the regular season, Fleury’s still bested him in every major statistical category.
So naturally, after Lehner’s disastrous playoff debut, the questions came pouring in about DeBoer’s decision to start him. But DeBoer refused to blame Lehner for the seven goals that went in.
“The game tonight wasn’t about Robin Lehner,” DeBoer said. “We didn’t play well enough in front of him.”
Despite that endorsement, it seems inevitable that Fleury will be between the pipes Wednesday night when the Avalanche and Golden Knights square off in Game 2. We’ll see then if the four full rest days help him stay fresher against a high-flying Colorado offense.
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