Marc-Andre Fleury has been one of the best goalies in hockey for the last four years. He held his Pittsburgh Penguins team together through the ugliest moments of strife in 2015. Fleury brilliantly racked up wins and points as the Penguins struggled to find their legs for the first half of last season. And now as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights expansion team, Fleury is dominating the NHL.
By leading the expansion Vegas Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final, Fleury slaughtered any doubts and is ready to assume his place in hockey history.
Go ahead and say it, “Future Hall of Famer, Marc-Andre Fleury.”
(*This story was originally published on May 21, 2018).
Fleury will now play for his fourth Stanley Cup. He is one of just 13 goalies to achieve 400 career wins (404). Fleury currently has a better save percentage (.913) than all-time wins leader and consensus best ever, Martin Brodeur (.912). Of the 13 goalies who have 400 wins, only Henrik Lundqvist (.919) and Roberto Luongo (.920) have stopped a higher percentage of shots.
Fleury, only 33 years old, is already in rare company.
Whether he wins or loses in the Stanley Cup Final, Fleury has taken his place among the greats. From 2010 to 2016, Fleury’s season save percentage did not dip below .913. Beginning in 2008, he started at least 60 games in six straight seasons (not counting the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season).
In short, Fleury is worthy of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Fleury is the biggest reason the Golden Knights have needed just 15 games to dispatch the L.A. Kings, San Jose Sharks and Winnipeg Jets. Three teams not to be taken lightly, and only the Sharks pushed VGK to six games.
“They had the best goalie in the league right now. He stood on his head. He made a lot of big saves, and their D played solid,” defeated Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele told reporters.
Scheifele almost turned the series for the Jets in Game 3. Trailing by one goal in the third period, Scheifele had two great scoring chances. Fleury made one great save, and one incredible save.
“It was their time,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice.
Goodbye to the Past
Negative perceptions are especially challenging to shed. Not even Fleury’s excellent regular season performances for the Pittsburgh Penguins from 2011 to 2017 could, for some, erase a couple of playoff debacles in 2012 and 2013. The Penguins had Stanley Cup worthy teams but had to turn to backup Tomas Vokoun in 2013 to advance to the Eastern Conference Final. Those are the terrible memories that stuck to Fleury.
For those who not jaded by the failures, Fleury’s playoff turnaround began in 2014. At the Penguins urging, Fleury worked with a sports psychologist. He was terrific in the 2013-14 season and playoffs. His playoff save percentage was a solid .915. Unfortunately for Fleury, The New York Rangers rallied around Martin St. Louis, whose mother passed away, and the Rangers overpowered the Penguins to overcome a 3-1 series deficit.
Fleury was the Penguins best player in the 2015 playoff loss to the Rangers (.927 save percentage). In 2016, a late-season concussion kept Fleury out until Round 2. Matt Murray’s play kept him out, except for the Game 5 start in the Eastern Conference Final, for the remainder of the playoffs.
That Fleury did not finish the Penguins 2017 Stanley Cup run is a factor beyond his control. Though there is little doubt, Fleury could have finished the job which Sullivan turned back to Murray. Fleury stole the Round 2 series against the Washington Capitals, who outplayed the Penguins except for the smiling netminder in black and gold.
Perhaps that toothy smile and happy demeanor lessened the perception of his accomplishments. Just as playing behind offensively powerful, but sometimes defensively indifferent Penguins teams lessened his statistical impact.
This season as a Vegas Golden Knight, Fleury played at a Vezina Trophy level when healthy, but a concussion limited him to 46 games. Fleury rolled with a robust .927 save percentage and a small 2.24 goals against average.
But in the playoffs, he’s been otherworldly: .947 save percentage, four shutouts, and a 1.68 goals against average.
Perhaps it is the Golden Knights’ time. After being denied a major professional sports franchise for decades because of gambling concerns, despite interested owners like the Maloof brothers who wanted to bring an NBA team to the city, Vegas finally got a team. And players and fans are making the most of it.
The slogan is #Vegasborn.
For Marc-Andre Fleury, perhaps it is Vegas reborn.
The numbers are there. The trophies which matter are there, and someday, “Flower” as he is affectionately known will sign the book as a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.