This is Marc-Andre Fleury‘s franchise. Don’t forget that.
Call it a revenge tour, call it a shot at redemption, call it whatever you want but Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is proving right now that he is the poster child and the face of this franchise for a reason, and it is spectacular to watch unfold.
Time works differently in sports and we are seeing a prime example of that right now in Sin City with Fleury playing at an MVP-caliber level, becoming a key reason behind the Golden Knights’ 10-2-1 start to the year and proving why the front office were right not to ultimately trade him during what was a tense offseason to say the least.
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Yes, in case you need reminding, it wasn’t that long ago that what was a perfect marriage between Marc-Andre Fleury and the Vegas Golden Knights seemed destined to end in an ugly and messy divorce with everyone’s dirty laundry aired out for all to see. It all started at the 2019-20 Trade Deadline when General Manager Kelly McCrimmon went all out to trade for elite goalie Robin Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks, seemingly not alerting Fleury as to what the plan was going forward.
That plan ultimately proved to be Lehner emerging as the new No. 1 starter for the Golden Knights, getting the bulk of the work inside The Bubble and carving out a 9-7-0 record with a 1.99 Goals Against Average and a .917 Save Percentage to go along with four shutouts. Lehner’s rapid rise as the go-to-guy for Vegas obviously sparked some tension, and it led to Allan Walsh, the longtime agent of Fleury, Tweeting out a rather graphic image of a sword going through the back of his client with Head Coach Pete DeBoer’s name emblazoned on the blade.
Marc-Andre Fleury is playing at a true MVP level for the Vegas Golden Knights
It was clear that Fleury’s camp felt as though they had been let down by the coaching staff and the front office when it came to being informed of what the plan was in the immediate wake of Lehner’s arrival and, while a PR campaign was launched in order to try and put the fire out, it remained clear that there was a problem between the Golden Knights and its face of the franchise.
Those issues reared their ugly head again during the offseason when the Knights were frantically trying to clear cap space in order to create the room required to sign elite Free Agent defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and, although Fleury was consistently linked with a trade, it proved to be much-loved defenseman Nate Schmidt who fell on his sword (excuse the pun), being traded to the Vancouver Canucks in order to clear salary.
As a result, the Golden Knights committed to an elite tandem of Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury for the 2020-21 NHL season and, while spending a combined $12 million on two goalies isn’t conducive to long-term success, it would give Vegas a distinct advantage over other teams in a shortened 56-game schedule.
However, Lehner has been less than reliable to start the year, posting a .890 Save Percentage and a 2.96 Goals Against Average while he has developed a bad habit of starting slow in games, allowing a total of nine goals in the first period of games this season compared to only six in the second and third periods combined.
And, with Lehner currently out with an upper-body injury, Marc-Andre Fleury has carried the bulk of the load over the last week or so and he has been stellar to say the least. I mean, he has been insane all year and he’s playing at the peak of his powers right now, arguably producing some of the best hockey of what is going to be a Hall of Fame career.
Fleury is 7-1-0 this season with two shutouts to go along with a sublime .944 Save Percentage and an incredible 1.38 Goals Against Average, also ranking third in the National Hockey League with a 7.46 goals saved above average, despite splitting starts with Lehner for a large chunk of the first month of the 2020-21 season.
Those are simply eye-catching stats and the eye test also impresses given that Fleury has already made a portfolio of stunning saves, standing on his head at times and bailing out his team when the defense in front of him have sometimes committed a busted coverage or given up a turnover in their own zone. There is a reason Fleury has contributed a Point Share of 2.0 so far this year.
Granted, some of Fleury’s best work has come against teams that have struggled to produce offense in the West Division, like the San Jose Sharks, the Anaheim Ducks and the Arizona Coyotes, but you can only play what is put out in front of you and the veteran has gotten the job done every single time.
But, there is no doubt that Marc-Andre Fleury’s best work of the season came on Sunday afternoon when the Golden Knights made a huge statement in the NHL. Playing fellow heavyweights the Colorado Avalanche in what was the first of a four-game series between the two big favorites for the Stanley Cup this year, Vegas gutted out a 1-0 win despite playing their third game in four days and their legendary netminder was the driving force behind that statement win.
For instance, Fleury put on an absolute show and clinic against a potent and dynamic offense that had Nathan MacKinnon back after a short absence due to an upper-body injury, but the 36-year-old stopped all 30 shots he faced for his 63rd career regular-season shutout, including pulling off six absolutely mouthwatering saves early in the third period with the stacked Avalanche starting to pile on the pressure. I mean, just look at the above save to deny former teammate Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the third period, with Fleury managing to track the puck despite having heavy traffic in-front of him and then adjusting his body to get in the way of the puck and keep it out. Outstanding.
However, Fleury stood tall and did what he has done all season long by refusing to be beat, throwing it back to his prime years and producing a performance for the ages. His heroics on Sunday were even more impressive when you consider that he played both games of a back-to-back this weekend and it was his third game in just four days. Despite not having a lot of rest, though, Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 81 of the 83 shots he faced in that span for a stellar .976 Save Percentage, not only carrying the Vegas Golden Knights to some huge wins and to an elite start to the 2020-21 NHL season, but also proving that he is the true face of this franchise and that this team is his, even if it was nearly taken away from him at one point. Vintage Marc-Andre Fleury is back and long may it continue.