The rotation between Fleury and Robin Lehner has gone deep into the season with two games remaining. The Golden Knights are inching closer to a West Division title, and a victory Monday against the Colorado Avalanche would clinch the Presidents’ Trophy for Vegas.
After a grueling season that has been mired with injuries, COVID dealings, and weirdness of the like, it’s time to cease the rotation for the season. That means it’s time to put Fleury in the crease for the biggest game of the regular season on Monday.
It’s also time for the Golden Knights to enter the playoffs with Fleury, their No. 1 goalie, their backbone, leading the charge.
Based on the rotation schedule, Lehner would get the call Monday. Fleury made 20 saves Saturday in the Golden Knights’ 4-1 victory against the St. Louis Blues, their third straight and Fleury’s eighth win in a row.
In theory, the best course of action is getting the most out of your $12 million goaltending tandem. The Golden Knights would probably want to continue the rotation that has gotten them to the top of the League standings with two games to play.
And they’d likely want to keep it going in the playoffs, too. Lehner’s performance last fall in the Edmonton bubble, going 9-7 and essentially taking the starting job from Fleury, warranted Vegas giving him that five-year, $25 million extension.
While Pete DeBoer was comfortable going with the split for as long as he could, at some point, the band-aid was going to need to come off. And there was no doubt that the decision was going to come down to the final games of the regular season.
I believe it really was a tough call for DeBoer not consistently going with both goalies during last season’s playoffs. The metrics behind it made sense; no travel, familiarity with surroundings, and Lehner was good enough prior to the pause, and the round-robin games, to make that decision.
Not to mention Fleury getting stabbed through his chest with a sword didn’t help matters.
This time is different. It’s about who has the hot hand, and it’s been burning for Fleury for the better part of three months. If it was Fleury dealing with a concussion and Lehner going 12-5-0, starting in 17 of 18 games with your 1B goalie out, there’s no doubt we’d be talking Lehner in this predicament.
Fleury not only kept the Golden Knights afloat with Lehner out, but he thrust himself into the Vezina Trophy conversation. Even with Lehner back, Fleury has remained in the hunt by base stats alone. His 25 wins are third-best in the League, his 2.04 GAA is among the top three best for goalies who have made at least 30 starts, and only Semyon Varlamov has a better save percentage than Fleury’s .927 in that criteria.
He’s likely not going to win the Vezina, but he’s certainly still in the finalist discussion and deserves at least that.
But for nothing else, Fleury deserves the opportunity to lead the Golden Knights this postseason. Coming within three wins in Year 1 is one of the greatest ‘what ifs’ we’ll ever come across. Between Game 7 in Year 2 and not getting a chance last year — and lest we forget the months of trade speculation — this is his time, and could be his last chance, to lead this group.
This isn’t an indictment on Lehner. If not for him, the Golden Knights don’t have a 10-game winning streak this season and aren’t in a position to do something unfathomable for a four-year franchise. He deserves every bit of praise for rebounding from a rough start, pre-concussion, to be 13-3-2 to this point.
And it’s not to say we won’t see Lehner in the playoffs. Given the unknown of how the playoff schedule fares, there may be a back-to-back or two in there to give Lehner a chance.
But right now, under as normal of circumstances as there can be, what’s normal is letting Fleury drive the ship one more time.