[UPDATE: Reaves has been suspended two games.]
Well, that did not work.
Vegas Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer decided to go with Robin Lehner, and not Marc-Andre Fleury, as his team’s starting goalie in Game 1 of their Second Round series against the Colorado Avalanche and it is safe to say that it did not go as planned in a 7-1 loss.
The Avalanche, the NHL’s best team during the regular season, were in complete control from the opening faceoff and scored goals on two of their first six shots against Lehner who was making his first appearance in three weeks. They never stopped scoring goals after that.
Colorado’s top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog combined for five goals, while top defenseman Cale Makar was a magician with the puck in tallying a goal and three assists and helping to dictate the pace of the game.
It was not just the fact that they scored goals, but almost every single one of them was a highlight reel play that featured incredible speed, precision puck movement, and just all out dominance. The Avalanche have been one of the league’s most dominant teams all season (actually for two seasons now) and this game was them at their absolute best.
The big storyline to come out of this game, though, will be DeBoer’s decision to start Lehner instead of Fleury. It was a surprise before the game given how well Fleury played in the First Round against the Minnesota. It will no doubt be heavily scrutinized (and probably harshly criticized) in hindsight given the result on the scoreboard.
If you dig into it, you could mount a solid defense for it. Fleury is 36 years old and just played seven tough games. The Golden Knights were going on the road, to Denver, in the thin air, and going against the most prolific scoring team in the league. They also do not play again until Wednesday so it gives Fleury an opportunity to rest. Besides, if you have two good goalies, you might as well use them, right? It is very similar to the approach they took a year ago in the bubble when the goalie roles were reversed (Lehner the regular starter and Fleury the backup).
But it obviously did not work.
Quite honestly, the Golden Knights probably could have played both goalies at the same time in this game and it would not have made much of a difference. That is how well Colorado played in this game. They made those goals look effortless, while they also played their usual brand of shutdown defense in limiting the Golden Knights to just one goal on 25 shots.
The good news for Vegas? It is just one game. The Golden Knights were in a tough spot in this game coming off of a Game 7 win against a fully rested team that had just been waiting for them for a week. Now the Golden Knights get two full days to regroup, rest, and hopefully come back in Game 2 with a better performance. They are absolutely capable of it. These two teams were nearly identical in their overall performance during the regular season and split their eight previous meetings and were separated by just a single goal on aggregate in those games. Colorado might be better. But the gap is not anywhere near as big as it appeared in Game 1 on Sunday night.
The bad news is they could be without Ryan Reaves and Max Pacioretty if the NHL DoPS takes a closer look at two separate incidents in this game. Pacioretty for a high hit on Sam Girard and Reaves for igniting a line brawl late in the game for a cross-check to the head of Philipp Grubauer and a punch to the back of the head of Graves. Graves was also penalized for a high hit on Mattias Janmark that could get a look.
AVALANCHE VS. GOLDEN KNIGHTS – series livestream link
Game 1: Sun. May 30: Golden Knights at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 2: Wed. June 2: Golden Knights at Avalanche, 10 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 3: Fri. June 4: Avalanche at Golden Knights, 10 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 4: Sun. June 6: Avalanche at Golden Knights, 8:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
*Game 5: Tues. June 8: Golden Knights at Avalanche TBD
*Game 6: Thurs. June 10: Avalanche at Golden Knights TBD
*Game 7: Sat. June 12: Golden Knights at Avalanche TBD