When choosing his starting goaltender, Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer is a lot like a director deciding whether to have Leonardo DiCaprio or Brad Pitt star in his movie.
Sure, people have their preferences, but it’s a great outcome either way.
DeBoer either gets to start the goalie with the fifth-highest postseason save percentage in NHL history (Robin Lehner) or the one with the sixth-most playoff wins (Marc-Andre Fleury). There’s not a wrong choice, and it’s a huge reason the Knights are playing in the Western Conference Final.
Game 3 against the Dallas Stars is at 5 p.m. Thursday at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta. The best-of-seven series is tied.
“When there is a (scoring) chance, they both have come up big,” DeBoer said. “Both guys have given us winning goaltending, a chance to win every night if we find a way to stick a couple pucks in the net. It’s a good feeling back there as a coach.”
Goaltending was a vulnerability for the Knights for much of the regular season.
They were 22nd in team save percentage. Only four teams below them participated in the restart, and all were eliminated by the end of the first round.
The Knights are still playing because they turned things around in net. Lehner, a trade-deadline acquisition from Chicago, is a major piece of that.
The 29-year-old pending unrestricted free agent is 9-4 with a 1.84 goals-against average in the postseason, which ranks fourth among goalies who have started at least one game. The big-framed netminder is almost impossible to beat when he can track the puck in his own zone, and he’s been fantastic off the rush, too.
His save on Vancouver Canucks right wing Brock Boeser was crucial in Game 7 of the second round. He also stopped Stars left wing Mattias Janmark on a partial breakaway in Game 2 on Tuesday.
— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@TheReplayGuy) September 5, 2020
Lehner’s career postseason goals-against average of 1.92 ranks 11th all time. Six of the goaltenders ahead of him played when forward passes were not allowed, and eight played their entire careers without the red line at center ice.
“Right now, he’s playing like one of the best in the league, if not the best in the league,” Knights right wing Alex Tuch said. “We have a lot of confidence in him. We also have a lot of confidence in (Fleury), but that save (on Boeser) was a game changer.”
Fleury, the face of the franchise for three years and a likely Hall of Famer, has been Lehner’s backup during the postseason. It’s a luxury most teams don’t have.
Fleury, 35, is 3-1 with a 2.27 goals-against average, a mark he’s bettered in only three of his other 13 postseasons. His numbers are outstanding even though he wasn’t at his best in one of his four starts. He allowed four goals on 17 shots in the round robin against St. Louis.
Since then, he has a .940 save percentage and has allowed five goals. His strong play made DeBoer confident that Fleury gave the Knights the best chance to win Game 1 against the Stars, and he was terrific in a 1-0 loss.
“He gave us a great game,” DeBoer said of Fleury’s 24-save performance. “I thought he was our best player. He gave us a chance to hang around when we didn’t deserve to be in the game early.”
The only downside to the Knights’ impressive tandem is it’s probably temporary. Lehner is overdue for a contract that will compensate him like the top-end goaltender he is. Fleury’s high cap hit, at $7 million per year for two more seasons, makes it unlikely the team can afford both.
They might not want to keep both, anyway. Fleury’s agent, Allan Walsh, dropped a not-too-subtle hint that he was unhappy with his client’s playing time with a since-deleted tweet the day before the second round began. The post featured Fleury with a sword in his back labeled “DeBoer.”
Asking Fleury to share the net with Lehner might not be viable. But that’s a problem for the offseason.
Right now, DeBoer can enjoy the two enviable options as he tries to take the Knights to the Stanley Cup Final.
“It’s really nice to be able to go into a game knowing you can trust whoever’s back there,” left wing Max Pacioretty said. “(Fleury’s) got the experience, and (Lehner’s) obviously a great goaltender as well. I think what’s really interesting about those two is even if they’re not playing, they find a way to contribute in the room.
“Everyone knows about (Fleury) as a teammate. Even in the games that he hasn’t been playing, he really is a guy that settles you down when you need to and also gets you going when you need to as well. He’s a great teammate and a big reason why we’re here today.”
What: Golden Knights vs. Stars
When: 5 p.m. Thursday
Where: Rogers Place, Edmonton, Alberta
TV: NBCSN (Cox 38/1038, DirecTV 220, CenturyLink 640/1640, DISH 159)
Radio: KKGK (98.9 FM, 1340 AM)
Line: Knights -170; total 5½ u-135
Game 1 — Stars 1, Golden Knights 0
Game 2 — Golden Knights 3, Stars 0
Game 3 — 5 p.m. Thursday (NBCSN)
Game 4 — 5 p.m. Saturday (KSNV-3)
Game 5 — 5 p.m. Monday (NBCSN)
*Game 6 — 5 p.m. Sept. 16 (NBCSN)
*Game 7 — 6 p.m. Sept. 18 (NBCSN)