Marc-Andre Fleury can still laugh off the enormous Game 3 mistake that allowed the Canadiens to push the Golden Knights to overtime. But he’ll need to laugh from the bench.
In a decision that’s stunning yet perhaps also quite understandable, it looks like the Golden Knights will start Robin Lehner over Fleury against the Canadiens in Game 4 on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN / Peacock).
It’s important to note that Peter DeBoer can be cagey about his starting goalies. Perhaps there’s a chance that he flips the script again, instead giving Marc-Andre Fleury the start over Lehner in Game 4 after all.
But key signs point to Lehner as the Game 4 starter. So let’s look at this bold decision from the perspective of both goalies, and the Golden Knights.
Game 3 was just one of Marc-Andre Fleury’s memorable flubs
If you’ve followed Marc-Andre Fleury’s career, especially through the highs and lows of his Penguins tenure, then you were far less surprised by his stunning Game 3 mistake. You might even chuckle at the mistake being labeled “uncharacteristic” of Fleury.
Yes, it’s harsh for someone to put together a “Marc-Andre Fleury fail compilation,” but MAF sometimes evokes Patrick Roy in that his worst moments are almost as dramatic as his greatest triumphs.
We’ve seen Marc-Andre Fleury go through playoff crises of confidence. There was even a point where Mario Lemieux personally gave MAF a pep talk when things were really unraveling.
But the lows are also part of what makes the highs so inspiring as Fleury keeps beating the odds in Vegas.
[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 schedule, TV info]
If the Golden Knights indeed start Lehner in Game 4 over Fleury, it could be an opportunity for people to revisit the drama of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Sure, Fleury made an enormous mistake on that 2-2 goal. But did that self-inflicted wound open the door for Allan Walsh to dust off that Photoshop of a sword in Fleury’s back?
As much as Fleury’s Golden Knights teammates stood up for him after that 2-2 goal gaffe, Peter DeBoer acknowledged the obvious after Game 3.
“Those type of events are tough to recover from,” DeBoer said Danny Webster. “I didn’t think we were poor in overtime but there’s no doubt that carried over”
Hmm, sort of sounds like a coach mulling over starting Lehner instead of Fleury in Game 4, huh? At least in hindsight?
It also inspires some questions about Fleury’s future with the Golden Knights, especially if the Canadiens win this series. After all, Fleury is entering a contract year, and Vegas reportedly shopped him around last offseason.
How much of a shame would it be if that mistake reverberates as one of the last things Fleury does as a member of the Golden Knights? Here’s hoping for a happier situation — whether Vegas advances past Montreal or not.
With MAF, good outweighs the bad — just less so recently
Again, Fleury made a big mistake, and a pivotal one at that. With Carey Price performing on an essentially perfect level, it’s hard to overstate the impact of such a mistake.
Even so, the bigger picture of Fleury with the Golden Knights is that the good heavily outweighs the bad. That’s especially true this season; he’s a Vezina Trophy finalist, and has been electric during most of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Marc-Andre Fleury is currently the Golden Knights leader in Conn Smythe odds at +600.
— Jesse Granger (@JesseGranger_) June 20, 2021
Then again, the Golden Knights can argue that Lehner should start over Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 4 for more than just that mistake.
So far in the Canadiens – Golden Knights series, Fleury sports a more earthbound .911 save percentage. By no means is that humiliating, but with Carey Price operating at such a high level (.925 save percentage vs. Golden Knights; .932 during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs), Vegas might need maximum efficiency.
Fleury's allowed 5.1 goals above expected since game 4 against Minnesota and 1.3 in this series so maybe giving him a night off isn't the worst idea.
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) June 20, 2021
Game 4 a tough ask for Lehner, even beyond Fleury comparisons
And, that’s where Robin Lehner comes in.
If you worry about rust, then you should worry about Lehner in Game 4. So far during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Lehner appeared once — when the Avalanche shellacked a fatigued Golden Knights team in Game 1 of the Second Round.
That Game 1 happened on May 30. Before that, Lehner made his last regular-season start on May 10.
Even beyond that, it’s been a bumpy season for Lehner. Due to health issues, he played just 19 regular-season games, managing a .913 save percentage. That’s fine, but he wasn’t exactly forcing MAF from the Vegas net.
Rather than easing in, Lehner gets thrown into Game 4 where the Golden Knights trail the Canadiens 2-1 in the series. And, yeah, there hasn’t been much margin for error.
I absolutely, 100 percent, understand the thought of going with Robin Lehner tonight.
That said, boy this is an awful spot for him.
— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) June 20, 2021
A style change
When you zoom in, the Golden Knights gamble with Lehner over Fleury in Game 4 considering that he’s coming in cold.
Lehner’s most memorable moments during the playoffs have been that blowout loss, some tweets, and having some hat trick fun. His most lasting regular season moment arguably involved criticizing COVID protocol.
Zoom out and consider their contrasting styles, though.
In a league of largely cookie-cutter goalies, “The Flower” is a rare butterfly. He makes flamboyant saves, showing off electric lateral movement. Sometimes that aggressiveness can backfire. Like, say, when that pokecheck attempt goes awry:
Now, it’s perfectly possible Paul Byron scores on Lehner there. Chances are, it would have been in a different way.
Lehner is a huge goalie, and when he’s keyed-in, he can use his massive frame in an intimidating way. For his size, he’s athletic, but Lehner is likely to be more “self-contained” than Fleury.
For better or worse (for better and worse?), you’re less likely to see the double-edged sword of frequent goalie puck handling.
So, about that… https://t.co/etxW63sBLF
— Jesse Granger (@JesseGranger_) June 19, 2021
To beat the Canadiens in Game 4, the Golden Knights need to do more than get the starting goalie decision right. Lehner could thrive, and they might still lose. Vegas could also suddenly outscore its problems, maybe after solving its power play.
But no doubt, this is a huge decision, and one that adds a little sizzle to a meaty series.
CANADIENS VS. GOLDEN KNIGHTS (MTL leads 2-1) – series livestream link
Game 1: Golden Knights 4, Canadiens 1
Game 2: Canadiens 3, Golden Knights 2
Game 3: Canadiens 3, Golden Knights 2 (OT)
Game 4: Sun. June 20: Golden Knights at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 5: Tues. June 22: Canadiens at Golden Knights, 9 p.m ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
*Game 6: Thurs. June 24: Golden Knights at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (USA Network / Peacock)
*Game 7: Sat. June 26: Canadiens at Golden Knights, 8 p.m ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.