When NHL agent Allan Walsh sent out a not-so-cryptic tweet on Saturday, he immediately released a firestorm of speculation and questions.
The tweet — a picture of his client, Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, photoshopped to depict a sword through his back — needed no caption to convey its message. That Vegas head coach Peter DeBoer’s name was written on the sword made it clear where Walsh’s grievance lay.
But the tweet thrust not just Fleury into the spotlight, but also his crease counterpart Robin Lehner, and raised questions about how he might respond.
During a media availability following Sunday’s Game 1 victory against the Vancouver Canucks to start the Round 2 series, Lehner told reporters the tweet was not met with tension between the two netminders but with laughter.
“Me and Marc, we were just laughing,” he said. “Because it’s always the media and everyone else who makes a big deal out of this. Me and Marc, we get along great. He’s a really good guy. I think this team, in general, since I got here, is a hell of a group and everyone’s really tight.”
Lehner’s performance in the game did most of the talking. Any questions about whether the tweet, and the chatter surrounding it, would affect his focus were answered well before his post-game media availability with what was his best playoff performance yet: a 26-save victory to blank the Canucks 5-0 for his first career post-season shutout.
“When this happened, I saw Marc, and we were just laughing. Because that’s all it is,” Lehner said of Walsh’s tweet. “At the end of the day, he didn’t do anything. It was his agent — if he wants to be unprofessional, go ahead. He looks terrible.”
The Golden Knights’ crease has been a subject of much interest ever since Vegas acquired Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks at February’s trade deadline, instantly forming the league’s best goalie tandem.
After backstopping the team through its incredible run in 2017-18 and being the unquestioned starter the past three years, Fleury has appeared in just two games this post-season registering wins in both. Though he struggled in the round-robin matchup against the St. Louis Blues, he was excellent in Game 3 of Round 1 against Chicago. Lehner, who won all three of his regular-season starts upon joining the Golden Knights, has put up strong numbers in the Edmonton bubble: a 6-1 record, 2.10 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage including Sunday night’s shutout.
Fleury, who requested the tweet be taken down, addressed the media prior to Sunday’s game.
“Bottom line is we all want to win. That’s why we’re here. I don’t like being a distraction for my team,” Fleury said. “I really like Robin. We have a good friendship and I think he’s a really good goalie also. There are no hard feelings.”
Lehner also told reporters following Sunday night’s game that the last day and a half since the tweet and prior to game time had not been much different from normal, and shed some light on how his past few seasons, during which he has been no stranger to sharing time in the blue paint, have shaped his mindset.
“I’m used to this stuff here, I’ve got to be honest. When I went to Long Island, [Thomas] Greiss was kind of a fan favourite there. And then I go to Chicago and you play with [Corey] Crawford and you compete as best you can and here it’s with Fleury. It’s just part of the game. I think sometimes it just gets a little bit out of hand,” Lehner said, adding that he feels “blessed” to be teammates with Fleury.
“We’re a team. As long as we’re winning, it doesn’t matter if whoever plays,” he said, echoing his fellow netminder’s pre-game sentiment. “People have their fan favourites and all that stuff, but at the end of the day we’re winning and I’m very blessed to be a part of this team and be teammates with Marc. It’s just part of the game. Just do what the coach tells you, and do the best you can.”