Fleury, Lehner and the Golden Knights’ big Game 5 decision

[UPDATE: Fleury was the first goalie off during Tuesday’s morning skate and is the projected Game 5 starter.]

When it comes to his goaltending decisions Vegas Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer has not been afraid to make a bold, and maybe even controversial, move.

Over the past two years he has been rotating Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner in and out of the lineup at different (and unexpected) times. He rolled with Lehner as his starter a year ago, and has twice this postseason (including Sunday’s Game 4 win) sent Fleury to the bench in favor of Lehner even though the former has had a very strong postseason.

It creates quite a storyline going into a pivotal Game 5 on Tuesday when their semifinal series against the Montreal Canadiens shifts back to Vegas.

Does DeBoer stick with Lehner after a potential season-saving performance on Sunday?

Or does he go back to a rested Fleury who has hopefully put his Game 3 gaffe behind him?

Let’s dig into this situation a little bit with a few thoughts.

1. There is a strong argument in favor of DeBoer’s changes

When a team has a franchise goalie they usually stick with that goalie in the playoffs until they absolutely have to make a change. Seeing teams voluntarily using multiple goalies in a playoff is strange, mostly because we almost never see it.

But most teams don’t have two goalies this good. Most teams are not paying their two goalies a combined $12 million per season.

If you have two starting caliber goalies, and if you are going to pay them that much money and eat up that much of your allotted salary cap space, you might as well figure out a way to get something out of both of them. Especially when one of the goalies (Fleury) is 36 years old and has a lot of wear on his tires.

The NHL regular season is a grind for goalies, and a bunch of deep playoff runs only adds to that. The fatigue factor is real, and keeping your goalie fresh can be helpful. If giving Fleury the occasional night off in the middle of a playoff run helps keep him rest, and you have another goalie that is capable of winning you those games, why not take advantage of that? It is an edge Vegas has over most teams in the playoffs.

But…

2. This does keep happening to Marc-Andre Fleury..

And by this, I mean his coach going away from him in a big moment. It has happened with three different coaches on two different teams (Pittsburgh and Vegas) on multiple occasions.

In 2012-13 Dan Bylsma turned his net over to Tomas Vokoun in Game 5 of the the First Round. Outside of one relief appearance later in the playoffs, Fleury never saw the ice again as the Penguins went to the Eastern Conference Final.

In 2015-16 both Fleury and Matt Murray opened the playoffs injured for the Penguins. Murray was the first goalie back, got the starts, and held that starting job until Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay when Fleury was re-inserted into the lineup. He did not play well, gave up two late goals in a pivotal game, and never saw the ice again as Murray backstopped the Penguins to a Stanley Cup.

In 2016-17 Fleury opened the playoffs for the Penguins as the starter (Murray was injured) and helped carry them through the first two rounds. He stumbled early in the Conference Finals against Ottawa, was replaced by Murray in Game 4, and then never saw the ice again as Murray backstopped the Penguins to another Stanley Cup.

[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

In 2019-20, and after two playoff runs where he was the unquestioned starter in Vegas (including a Stanley Cup Final run), Fleury opened the playoffs on the bench in favor of Lehner who had played just three regular season games for the Golden Knights. Other than being used sparingly to give Lehner a break in some back-to-back situations in the bubble, Fleury was clearly the back up.

Then on Sunday, with the Golden Knights facing a 2-1 series deficit in the semifinal, DeBoer went back to Lehner in a massive spot.

You can analyze each individual situation all you want and look for reasons why each of those decisions was made. Maybe in a vacuum each of them makes sense on its own. But it keeps happening.

Fleury is fascinating case because he is the goalie that you want to see when you look at him, both good and bad.

His resume is Hall of Fame worthy, and he will almost certainly eventually find his way there. He is probably going to finish his career second on the All-Time wins list (he is already third, and Patrick Roy in the second spot is within reach), probably in the top-10 in shutouts, and he has a championship legacy. He won a Stanley Cup as a starter in 2009. He started to other Stanley Cup Finals in 2008 and 2018 and made significant contributions to two other Stanley Cup winning teams (2015 and 2016). There is a good chance he could find himself playing in another Stanley Cup Final, and maybe add another ring to his collection this season.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 schedule, TV info]

But he has always been a lightning rod for criticism throughout his career for his postseason struggles and occasional blooper.

In the end he is a better player than his harshest critics will have you believe and maybe not as great as his biggest supporters will scream.

He may have never been the best goalie in the league, but he has been a very good, extremely durable goalie for more than 15 years. There is a lot to be said for that.

But you still can not ignore the fact that three very successful coaches, with five different Stanley Cup Final appearances between them, have at different times made the decision to start other goalies on the roster in big moments.

It is a very unique situation for a goalie with this sort of resume.

It also leads to this.

3. DeBoer’s decision for Game 5 will be telling

If DeBoer goes back to Fleury in Game 5 then it pretty clearly states that Fleury is his guy for this postseason and the Game 4 decision (and the Game 1 decision in the Second Round) were simply strategic changes to rest his starter and keep him fresh.

But if he goes back to Lehner after Fleury’s Game 3 mishap and Lehner’s strong Game 4 performance, then it is going to look an awful lot like a coach that was just waiting for an opportunity to turn to his preferred goalie.

CANADIENS VS. GOLDEN KNIGHTS (Series tied 2-2) – 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: Golden Knights 2, Canadiens 1 (OT)

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)

*if necessary

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    Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

    Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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    BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

    The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

    “That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

    Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

    “It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

    In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

    “It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

    Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

    In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

    “We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

    Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

    Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

    Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

    Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

    Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

    TAKE NOTE

    The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

    Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

    UP NEXT

    Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

    Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

    Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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    NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

    Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

    The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

    Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

    “We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

    Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

    The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

    The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

    Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

    Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

    The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

    Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.

    Toronto’s Morgan Rielly placed on long-term injured reserve

    Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
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    TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman Morgan Rielly on long-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

    Rielly was hurt in a collision with with New York forward Kyle Palmieri early in the third period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at home.

    Rielly has no goals and 16 assists in 20 games this season and is averaging 23 minutes of ice time.

    Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice that the 28-year-old Rielly doesn’t need surgery, adding there’s no firm timeline for his return beyond the minimum 24 days and 10 games required for going on long-term injured reserve.

    Toronto’s defense is also missing Jake Muzzin with a neck injury and T.J. Brodie with an injured oblique.