The Golden Knights’ goaltending situation received a dose of drama Saturday, one day before the team was scheduled to begin its second-round series against the Vancouver Canucks.
Marc-Andre Fleury’s agent, Allan Walsh, took to Twitter to voice his displeasure over his client only starting two of the Knights’ eight postseason games. Walsh tweeted artwork of Fleury playing goaltender with a sword in his back. The blade had the word “DeBoer” on it, referring to coach Pete DeBoer.
The Knights’ bench boss is the one who decided to start Robin Lehner in two of the team’s three round-robin games, and four of its five games in the first round against the Chicago Blackhawks. It’s unclear if anything will change against the Canucks.
— Allan Walsh (@walsha) August 22, 2020
Attempts to reach Walsh for additional comment Saturday were unsuccessful. DeBoer had already completed his video news conference in Edmonton, Alberta, when the tweet was published.
Fleury, for his part, has made little fuss publicly about being on the bench more often than not this postseason. He struggled in his first playoff start against the St. Louis Blues, but was spectacular Aug. 15 against the Blackhawks. He stopped 26 of the 27 shots in a 2-1 win in Game 3.
“I don’t feel I’m against Robin,” Fleury said afterward. “I just feel like I need to beat the Blackhawks. That’s where my focus is at. I’m just trying to do my best to help my team to get a win. … Robin likes to play, I like to play. It’s the coach’s decision, right? It’s playoffs and I think everybody is going to be a good team guy. All that matters is winning one game at a time here.”
Fleury, one of the faces of the Knights’ franchise, did not have his best statistical season. His .905 save percentage and 2.77 goals-against average were both below his career averages. The three-time Stanley Cup winner also dealt with personal hardship when his father Andre died in November.
Fleury, 35, is under contract for two additional seasons. His $7 million cap hit is tied for the fourth-highest among goaltenders with Boston’s Tuukka Rask. Only Montreal’s Carey Price, Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky and the N.Y. Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist cost more annually against the cap.
Fleury, a likely Hall of Famer, ranks fifth in career wins (466) and is tied for sixth in playoff wins (80).
Lehner is a pending unrestricted free agent the Knights acquired from Chicago at the trade deadline. He was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season and is 8-1 in his brief time with the team. The 29-year-old has a .904 save percentage this postseason.
DeBoer has never officially anointed Lehner his playoff starter. The coach has always maintained he plans to use both goaltenders this postseason, even though he’s played one more than the other so far.
“They are tough decisions to make only from a point of, particularly goaltenders, they want to play,” DeBoer said after Fleury’s Game 3 performance. “Starting goaltenders want to play. They want to get on a roll. They want that feeling of being in there every night.
“But I think we have to ask ourselves, is that what’s best for our team and our group or are we better spotting them off each other? I don’t know the answer to that, but so far we’ve gotten great goaltending from both guys. So we’re going to continue to evaluate that as we go.”
This isn’t the first time in Fleury’s career he’s dealt with an uncomfortable goalie situation. With the Pittsburgh Penguins, he missed time due to a concussion late in the 2016 regular season and early in the playoffs. Rookie Matt Murray took over the starting job and didn’t give it up.
The Penguins won the 2016 Stanley Cup in six games against DeBoer’s San Jose Sharks.
With Murray injured, Fleury began the following year’s playoffs as Pittsburgh’s starter. Murray reclaimed the crease late in the Eastern Conference Finals, however, and started all six games of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.
The Penguins defeated the Nashville Predators to repeat as champions. The 2017 expansion draft started a week later, and Fleury was selected by the Knights.
Despite the potential for awkwardness, DeBoer praised how Fleury had handled the situation after the Game 3 win against the Blackhawks.
“Everybody wants to play, especially players with his pedigree have great pride in their game,” DeBoer said “It’s not easy to sit. He handled it exactly how you would expect a guy like him with his professionalism to handle it and did exactly what we needed him to do, which was come in and play his ass off.”