It was always going to shake out this way wasn’t it? In a year where the Hawks finally tried to fully supplant Corey Crawford in net with noted asswipe Robin Lehner, or at the very least cover themselves against more Crawford injuries, the Hawks were out of it by the deadline, and decided to get what they could for Lehner after he very publicly started demanding to finally be paid what he’s worth, even as Crawford was outplaying him and had been for a couple of months. He was shipped to Vegas who could no longer rely on Marc-Andre Fleury despite giving him a huge contract after harnessing the Reality Stone in the 2018 post-season, and now with the wacky return to play tournament format, the two teams find themselves squaring off against one another for the fate of all humanity.
Robin Lehner (Even Strength)
36GP 1013SA 79GA .922SV
There’s no doubt that in October and November, Lehner kept the Hawks in plenty of games that they shouldn’t have been in, and backstopped a much improved penalty kill. And if there was any doubt, he’d tell anyone who would listen about it after reminding them of his mental health. But after the turn of the new year, his overall save percentages were floating right around the .900 mark, and that certainly wasn’t due to any kind of workload, other than the quality chances that a ridiculously porous Hawk blue line kept allowing. He and his shit attitude got shipped to Vegas, his fifth team before turning 29 in July, where he allowed a total of 5 goals in three games. He was solid enough in the prelims getting two starts, and allowing a total of 6 goals, 4 at even strength, with an even strength save percentage of .923.
As far as his actual style, Lehner is a huge guy at 6’4″ 240, and plays extremely deep in his cage, and is far more of a throwback standup goalie than is seen these days. Those problems were magnified given his struggle with shootouts, but that’s obviously not going to be a concern here. Lehner spends a lot of his time bent at the waist given his size and style, and his first move is to flop forward and smother rather than to go down into a butterfly and take away the bottom of the net. There’s not a lot that can be done to jam a puck home when he’s down, prone, and flailing just to to the sheer mass of him even before donning the paraphernalia. But he makes up for some slower reaction times with that size, and given that he’s in tight and not in a butterfly with his pads pronated outward, quick low shots at his feet give him trouble before he’s down and covering. He’s also a well documented redass, so he can get flustered and mistakes can compound on him, which he will then blame on his teammates after the fact. Make no mistake, he’s a complete shithead, but he’s certainly deserving of the starts here over…
Marc-Andre Fleury (Even Strength)
49GP 1155SA 98GA .915SV
At nearly 36 (Jesus Christ almighty), Flower held down the fort as well as can be reasonably expected, but certainly not commensurate with the aforementioned contract he was given. And while these numbers are the very definition of “fine”, it’s understandable that the Vegas braintrust would want an insurance policy against MAF wearing down or getting wobbly in the post season, as has been the case for a while now with 2018 being the glaring exception they paid a pretty penny for. Fleury is the antithesis to Lehner in seemingly every possibly way. He is utterly beloved by teammates and will always assume blame in the press, even on the occasions where he had been completely hung out to try by some undermanned Pens teams. Being Quebecois, he is a textbook butterfly style goalie, and he might be one of the most limber and flexible true athletes to ever man a crease, being slightly built at 6’2″ and only 180. His glove hand and reflexes are the reason he was drafted first overall eons ago, and has been in the league now for nearly a decade and a half. There might be some slightly misguided sense of loyalty playing a role in any decision to start Flower over Lehner, and he did get the full exhibition game and one of the round robins, so technically they did split time evenly in the bubble. But in all likelihood Fleury will start out on the bench, though if he has to come in for whatever reason, he’s not utterly helpless out there.
As difficult as this is to admit, and as much as Corey Crawford is and always has been a better goalie than Robin Lehner, the fact of the matter is that Lehner is going to be asked to do far less here than Crawford is, and Lehner isn’t still getting up to game speed while recovering from covid. And in the event that either backup has to see any action, Vegas has a clear edge with Fleury over Malcolm Subban.