Pete DeBoer creates more goaltending drama for desperate Golden Knights

·3-min read

Pete DeBoer has sharpened his weapons.

Despite the potential season-saving overtime victory over the Washington Capitals on Wednesday, the subplot — or more specifically another apparent rift between the Vegas Golden Knights and one of his goaltenders — is catching most of the headlines.

After a scathing review of Robin Lehner in a 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils two nights previous, wherein which he quibbled with the goals allowed in a key matchup, DeBoer decided to go back to his primary starter versus Washington. But after making 12 saves on 13 shots in an opening period deadlocked at one goal apiece, Lehner was lifted at the intermission in favor of Logan Thompson, who had been lauded for his consistency since spelling injured backup netminder Laurent Brossoit following the disappointing effort from Lehner versus the Devils.

Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner was pulled on Wednesday despite stopping 12 of the 13 shots he faced. (AP Photo/Sam Morris)
Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner was pulled on Wednesday despite stopping 12 of the 13 shots he faced. (AP Photo/Sam Morris)

Thompson made 13 saves on 15 shots across the remaining two periods and overtime to secure the victory, but of course the assessment of Lehner's game, and the rationale behind his removal, was most topical following Shea Theodore's crucial bonus-time winner.

"The decision to start — we pay him to start games like this," DeBoer began. "It's the most important time of the year. He's healthy. He's fresh. He's got a lot of energy and we need him at this point of the year.

"After that New Jersey game I felt like I wanted to give him the opportunity to bounce back and have a big game for us.

"On the decision to change, I really liked our start. We gave up that first goal and I thought we looked like we were rattled as a team for the rest of the period. It was just to trying to switch some momentum, reset ourselves, and get ready for the rest of the game."

At best, DeBoer feels just as he says.

In Lehner's worst season since exiting Buffalo four seasons ago, both DeBoer, and more importantly the skaters on the roster, have lost confidence in Lehner, or simply have more trust in Thompson.

It's also exceedingly possible, however, that the management of his goaltenders remains DeBoer's primary weakness as a head coach.

Preferring Lehner to Marc-Andre Fleury two seasons ago, DeBoer's treatment of the most important player in franchise history prompted his agent, Allan Walsh, to publish a photoshopped photo of Fleury with a sword, brandished with DeBoer's name, plunging through his back.

DeBoer then had to go back to Fleury the following season when Lehner was reduced to 19 games due to injury. Fleury wound up winning his first-ever Vezina Trophy and was the primary ball-handler throughout three rounds of the postseason as well. However, despite Fleury's brilliance, he was traded in the offseason by Vegas management.

From Fleury to Lehner and now Lehner to Thompson, DeBoer has been far too quick to blame issues and disappointments on his netminders since ironically becoming the shiny new toy himself when management chose him over Gerard Gallant.

Unfortunately, and despite what he believes to be true, the level of ability, at least in the big picture, has decreased with every reflexive decision he's made.

It's entirely possible that Thompson is the best option for Vegas right now and the right buttons are being pushed by DeBoer, albeit haphazardly. Perhaps Thompson is the option that helps Vegas overcome the two-point deficit it faces in the wild-card race while spotting the Dallas Stars a game in hand.

But it's also very likely that Lehner is the only netminder in the organization who can help it accomplish what it set out to do at the start of the season.

And since when has it been about the bare minimum in Vegas?

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