They insist it won’t be an issue. That they get along fine and have no problem sharing the net for the Golden Knights. After all, everyone involved is a professional united by a common goal.
“Two good goalies, that’s a positive thing,” Robin Lehner said.
Lehner and goalie partner Marc-Andre Fleury have said all the right things since it became clear they would enter the season as teammates.
But of the myriad questions facing the Knights ahead of Thursday’s season opener against Anaheim at T-Mobile Arena, none looms larger than the one in net, where coach Pete DeBoer must perform a delicate balancing act.
If the partnership works as intended, the Knights should have the NHL’s top goaltending duo to spearhead a run at the Stanley Cup.
Otherwise, a repeat of the controversy that erupted in the playoffs could torpedo their promising season.
“We’re going to need both guys,” DeBoer said during training camp. “I’m sure to start the season we’re going to look at some type of 50-50 split early to get both of their games established and ease them in. And then we’ll go from there. Then all bets are off with where we go from there.”
Fleury’s time with the Knights appeared to be up after he appeared in four of 20 postseason games last season. Not only did his agent tweet a photo of Fleury being stabbed through the back by a sword with “DeBoer” on the blade before the start of the Western Conference semifinals, but Lehner signed a five-year, $25 million extension in the offseason.
The Knights shopped Fleury during free agency but decided to retain both goalies for a $12 million salary cap hit in anticipation of a condensed schedule for the season. Only the Montreal Canadiens at $14.85 million are allocating more money to their goaltenders.
“I think you need two good goalies in today’s league,” Lehner said. “There’s injuries, and the games are getting faster.”
DeBoer had the luxury of starting workhorse Martin Jones 60-plus games each season while he coached in San Jose, but he also has experience rotating between two goaltenders.
Before the 2013-14 season, the New Jersey Devils traded for Cory Schneider and paired him with 41-year-old Martin Brodeur.
Schneider made 43 starts and outperformed the future Hall of Famer, who started the remaining 39 games. The Devils went 35-29-18, including 0-13 in shootouts, and finished sixth in the Metropolitan Division to miss the playoffs.
DeBoer was fired 36 games into the following season when the Devils stumbled to a 12-17-7 record.
“We didn’t have the benefit of a shortened season, which makes it a lot easier to share the net and play two guys just because of travel and time between games and things like that,” DeBoer said. “It takes two special pros to handle it. Again, I think the circumstances of this year are going to make that easier on everybody.”
The Knights are scheduled to play 56 games in 116 days with eight back to backs. They play 14 of 18 away from home between Feb. 20 and March 27. That should provide DeBoer plenty of opportunities to play both goaltenders if each is performing well.
Fleury, 36, is fifth in NHL history with 466 victories. He needs 18 wins to tie Ed Belfour for fourth on the all-time list.
“I think we’re in good shape. Me and Robin can play, and there will be so many games in a short period of time,” Fleury said in December. “If you can always have a fresh goalie in there, I think it’s going to help the team.”