Robin Lehner had the quietest 31-save performance you’ll see on Monday.
It was another effort that’s been synonymous since his return to the lineup: quiet and efficient.
The Golden Knights benefited greatly from a four-goal second period in their 6-1 victory against the St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center. The six goals were a season-high and a needed surge after scoring five total during its three-game losing streak.
But if not for Lehner’s play in the first period, the 2-1 lead Vegas carried into the first intermission may have not existed.
Lehner stopped seven of the eight shots his way, including a save on Jaden Schwartz 3:01 into the frame, where he nutmegged Brayden McNabb and created the dangerous opportunity. Schwartz went backhand to forehand in close, but Lehner got the right pad on it.
Another look at Schwartz with the nutmeg on McNabb. pic.twitter.com/waKTme5t21— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) April 6, 2021
“We weren’t great in the first probably 10 minutes. I thought we gave them a lot of room, a lot of rush,” said coach Pete DeBoer. “We needed a couple of big saves early from him, and he was real solid for all 60 minutes for us.”
The Golden Knights struggled in their zone in the first period. Despite Tomas Nosek’s goal 6:25 in to give Vegas a 1-0 lead, the Blues carved the Vegas defense through the neutral zone. Case in point, 1:09 later, when Ivan Barbashev got behind Jonathan Marchessault on a partial 3-on-2 but was turned away by Lehner, this time with the left pad.
Meanwhile, big saves early from Lehner. pic.twitter.com/AYLhn8g7Zy— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) April 6, 2021
St. Louis had only three shots in the first 15:40; those two saves by Lehner, and a low-danger chance from Ryan O’Reilly at 9:15.
The Golden Knights evaded danger, and took a 2-0 lead after the first of two Alec Martinez goals at 12:25.
“Tonight’s a prime example. We didn’t necessarily start the way we wanted to start, but Lenny did an unbelievable job keeping us in the game, and we rewarded him,” said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. “It’s important that your goalies keep you in games when things aren’t going the way you want; whether it’s the start of the game or the middle of the game.”
We’d be talking of a Lehner shutout had the Golden Knights not had one defensive breakdown too many. Tyler Bozak cut it to 2-1 at 17:01 off a dump-and-chase that involved Bozak all alone in the slot with three white shirts in the crease.
The Golden Knights lucked out in the first period, but their explosion in the second was enough of a cushion.
“He was awesome tonight,” said defenseman Nic Hague. “He kept us in it from the start, which is always a good feeling on the bench. We rally behind that.”
Since returning to the lineup March 19 from his third concussion, Lehner is 4-0-1 and has allowed only seven goals on 135 shots. His .948 save percentage trails Nashville’s Juuse Saros (.966) and Florida’s Chris Driedger (.959) among goalies who made at least five starts in that time.
His 1.38 goals-against average is also third behind Saros (1.15) and Driedger (1.20) in that span.
It’s eerily rivals Marc-Andre Fleury’s Vezina-caliber stretch in Lehner’s absence, minus 11 starts — Fleury went 11-5-0 in the 16 games he started without Lehner with a .936 save percentage and 1.90 GAA. It’s just another reminder of why the Golden Knights committed to $12 million in their goaltending.
The Golden Knights have needed every bit of Lehner’s production since he’s come back. Fleury is 1-4-0 in his last five starts since the rotation resumed. It could be fatigue; it could be the condensed scheduled catching up to him. But while Fleury has struggled, Lehner has picked up the slack.
“We needed him back. We relied on Flower for a real run there,” DeBoer said. “It was nice to have him back energized. The work he put in to get back has really set him up for success. He practiced really well, came back and I think has looked as good as he’s ever looked recently.”
The Golden Knights have 19 games remaining in a 33-day span, and there will likely be a split the rest of the way until one of the goalies falls off a cliff. There is no controversy right now. What the Golden Knights need at the moment is production from their $12 million goalie tandem.
With only four points out of first place in the West Division, Vegas is getting it. And that race will tighten for as long as this version of Lehner continues to dominate in a silent way.