We live in a numbers-based world.
Robin Lehner has made two starts for the Vegas Golden Knights since the Feb. 24 trade deadline; Vegas is 2-0-0. Marc-Andre Fleury is 1-2-0, now with back-to-back losses after Vegas lost 4-0 to the Winnipeg Jets on Friday.
The Golden Knights have still won nine of their last 11 and still own the top spot in the Pacific Division. With the Calgary Flames beating the Arizona Coyotes on Friday, that gap is considerably smaller as Vegas heads to the Saddledome on Sunday.
But Vegas has now dropped two of three, with both losses coming with Fleury in net. The numbers are not great — eight goals allowed, .805 save percentage, 4.09 goals-against average. Any other goalie would be cast off to the AHL for numbers like that.
If we want to be blunt, Fleury has been given the Malcolm Subban treatment — the players in front of him are leaving him out to dry.
Take Sunday against the Los Angeles Kings — Anze Kopitar, who is still a very good hockey player, had two goals in front of the Vegas crease with hardly any resistance shown toward him. Tack on a bit of puck luck for Trevor Lewis and a power-play goal later on, and the Kings had the game wrapped up by the first period.
Friday was no different. You can make the argument Fleury shouldn’t have come so far out of the crease to stop the first goal from Nikolaj Ehlers, but why Ryan Reaves is camped in front facing toward the net with his stick in prime position for a deflection is what needs to be the focus. To have that goal go in 32 seconds into the game, it was already doomed.
Like many of player that have come into the NHL, the left circle is nearly unstoppable. Patrik Laine is one of those players. The only player at fault for Vegas falling behind 2-0 in the first period is Nick Cousins for tripping Cody Eakin; Neal Pionk’s shot deflects off Brayden McNabb, the puck lands right at Laine’s stick and there aren’t many goalies that can make the ensuing stop.
Nicolas Roy has been terrific for most of this season. He’s been great on the second line in absence of Mark Stone. That turnover ... man. It springs a 2-on-1 for Winnipeg, and Kyle Connor buries it with 1:50 left in the first to make it 3-0.
A fourth-line blunder, a power-play goal, and a turnover leading to a goal. Let’s all blame the goalie.
Tack on another power-play goal for Mathieu Perreault, where he could’ve made a sandwich and still come from the right side to be almost all alone in front, and that sums up Vegas’ night in a nutshell.
The good news for the Golden Knights: They still lead the Pacific Division by two points over the Edmonton Oilers, now three points on the Calgary Flames. That gap is getting considerably smaller with Vegas heading to Calgary on Sunday and Edmonton on Monday. Lehner is likely getting the start on Sunday, with Fleury back Monday.
How quickly the narrative can shift. In Fleury’s five previous starts, he had a .942 save percentage and 1.60 GAA. He was playing his best hockey of the year in a time where the Golden Knights needed him to be. Now, with two losses with eight goals allowed that weren’t his fault, all of a sudden it’s forgotten? It doesn’t make sense, which is why it’s hard to fathom there being a goalie controversy right now.
Should Lehner get the call Sunday, the pressure will be on. If he wins against a much better team in a more pressurized situation, then maybe the voices will get a bit louder. But if Lehner loses, then what? It hasn’t looked great for Fleury his last two starts, but it’s certainly not on him.
Vegas can afford to lose to the likes of Winnipeg, Minnesota and Colorado this week. The games that matter most are the two occupying this back-to-back. If the Golden Knights can’t win those, then it won’t matter who’s in net.