Peter DeBoer knows he has two really good goaltenders and he doesn’t need a goalie coach to tell him who to play.
With David Prior being reassigned within the organization following Monday’s trade that sent Malcolm Subban to Chicago for Robin Lehner, DeBoer wasted little time getting the Golden Knights’ new acquisition some work.
Lehner got the start Friday against one of his old teams — the Buffalo Sabres — at T-Mobile Arena and the Knights overcame an early 1-0 deficit to win 4-2 and tie a franchise record with their eighth straight victory.
William Karlsson and Reilly Smith scored 2:17 apart in the third period to break a 1-1 deadlock and keep Vegas atop the Pacific Division with 80 points.
“I thought the goalie was great,” DeBoer said of Lehner. “It’s not easy to follow Flower (Marc-Andre Fleury) off a shutout and we’ve got a little streak going and you don’t want to be the one who breaks the winning streak. But he came up big and he did really well.”
Lehner was glad to give Fleury a day off and contribute to his new team’s current successful run even though he didn’t get off to a great start. The first shot he faced flew by him and in as Dominik Kahun took advantage of Zach Whitecloud’s turnover in the Vegas zone and beat Lehner upstairs for a 1-0 Buffalo lead 2:16 into the contest.
“You always want to play and it was good to get out there and help the team,” Lehner said. “I thought I was able to settle in after about 10 minutes and I felt more comfortable as the game went on.”
Vegas had to make do without one of its leading scorers as Mark Stone sat out Friday’s game with a lower-body injury sustained in Wednesday’s 3-0 win over Edmonton. The Knights also lost Tomas Nosek with just over seven minutes remaining in the first period as he absorbed a hard hit along the boards courtesy of Buffalo’s Zemgus Girgensons and did not return. DeBoer said afterward he had no update on Nosek’s status.
The Knights had already evened things prior to Nosek’s injury as the three Nicks teamed up with Nic Roy taking Nick Cousins’ pass and beating Carter Hutton after Nick Holden had kept the play alive in the Buffalo end.
By then, Lehner had settled down as his teammates did a better job of clearing loose pucks in front of him while giving him a clear path to see the shots. And with his 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame, Lehner cut an imposing figure in the Knights’ net.
“This is obviously a very talented team,” said Lehner, who was well received by the sellout crowd of 18,404 which got to welcome back former Knight Colin Miller, who was sent to Buffalo last summer. “It’s a very loud building to play in but it’s a lot of fun.”
The Knights attacked from the opening faceoff in the third period and the pressure paid off as Max Pacioretty found Karlsson alone in front and he put a one-time backhander past Hutton to give the Knights a 2-1 lead.
Shortly thereafter, it was Smith’s career-high 26th of the season on a wraparound that Hutton badly misplayed and failed to cover the left post giving the Knights a two-goal cushion.
Lehner took care of the rest. He had stopped Jack Eichel late in the second period and then robbed Jeff Skinner from the slot seven minutes into the third. He appeared to be on the same page with his defense and they limited the Sabres’ high-quality chances.
Smith capped off a memorable evening for him with an empty-net goal with 1:49 to play for his second of the night and his 27th of the year.
The Knights will try to make club history Sunday when they host Los Angeles and go for a franchise-record ninth straight win. More important, they’re trying to maintain the top spot in the Pacific and put a little distance between their closest pursuers, the Oilers and the Canucks. DeBoer said Fleury will be back in net against the Kings.
“It’s a great luxury to have, specially at this time of the year,” he said of having two veteran top-flight goalies. “Everyone’s playing shorter, thinner lineups and you need really good goaltending to put points in the bank.”