Things were looking pretty ugly for Robin Lehner early this season.
As Marc-Andre Fleury was channelling his old form once more, Lehner, the guy everyone expected to get the edge in starts between the goalie duo, didn't look up to task at the same velocity. He started the season with a 2-1-1 record – clearly, not that big of an issue, but he allowed a few stinkers along the way and Fleury was putting up an early Vezina Trophy-candidate campaign.
The stats weren't pretty: his surface stats of Lehner a 2.96 goals-against average and a .890 save percentage in his first five starts were a far cry from Fleury's 1.68 GAA and .929 over the first month of the season. Digging a bit deeper, Lehner was near the bottom in most advanced goalie stats, per Natural Stat Trick,
Lehner did require shoulder surgery back in October, so some people questioned whether he was struggling to come back from that. Then, an early season concussion took him out until March. This was Fleury's crease now, and Lehner was going to have a mountain to climb if he wanted the net back, especially as Fleury emerged as one of the league's top goalies, even to this day.
But Lehner is back to the dominant force we're used to. Since returning to action on March 19, Lehner has a 7-0-1 run, with a 1.86 GAA and 1.46 goals-saved-above-average at 5-on-5 in that span. He's not near the top of the statistical categories, but he's been darn good when he needs to and looks confident again.
Coach Pete DeBoer has split the two goalies since Lehner's return, With a season-long GSAA of 12.98, Fleury is still the man for the job in Vegas. But the Golden Knights rode Flower heavy because neither Oscar Dansk or Logan Thompson are good enough backups to give Fleury extended breaks. At least with a recharged Lehner, the Golden Knights should go back to be comfortable with splitting the two.
"The work he put in to get back has really set him up for success," DeBoer said last week. "He practiced really well, came back and I think has looked as good as he’s ever looked recently.”
For the Golden Knights, you can attribute at least some of the success to how deep of a team they are in the first place. Vegas is a favorite to win the Stanley Cup, with key pieces at every position making them a tough cookie to crack. Fleury's numbers definitely suggest he's saved more than a few games for them this season, with Fleury's 3.6 wins-above-replacement, per Evolving-Hockey), putting him fifth in the NHL this season. Lehner's numbers aren't as good, with a 0.9 WAR, but he's continuing to move up the ranks and as the sample size continues to grow, his stats continue to improve.
The reason the Golden Knights went out and acquired Lehner – and then signed him to a five-year extension over the off-season – was to shore up the team's goaltending and give them one of the best, if not THE best, 1-2 duo in the league. It worked well in the playoffs (despite the drama with Fleury's agent), but Dallas ended up coming out with conference final victory after grinding it out all the way. Goaltending hasn't been a concern this year, and with both healthy and performing, they're meeting expectations.
It took some time for Lehner to get back to what he's capable of and it's nice to see him performing at a high level again. It's been a quiet revival, given how good Fleury has been once again, but it's something that should help shape the rest of Vegas' season in a positive way.