I’ll be rooting for Marc-Andre Fleury to pitch a shutout Tuesday night when he plays his first game as a visitor in Pittsburgh. Penguins fans may not like to hear about a guy in the local media rooting against a local team, but I’m rooting for the best story.
So, here’s mine: Fleury stands on his head for the Golden Knights, and Matt Murray stands on his head for the Penguins.
It’s scoreless after regulation.
Both goaltenders make spectacular saves in overtime and nobody scores. The Knights get one past Murray, and it comes down to Fleury against Sidney Crosby for the win.
Crosby skates in and takes a quick shot. Fleury makes one of those glove saves where he flicks his glove forward at the end.
Standing ovation from Penguins fans, many of whom on a typical night would have been outside beating the traffic.
Crosby somehow sneaks in a quick stick tap on Fleury’s pads before he skates off.
Okay, that might be expecting a little too much, but I will be hoping for a low scoring game with lots of shots, great saves at both ends, and a win for Fleury.
I’m the guy who said back in May that I would have stuck with Fleury as the No. 1 goalie through the end of the playoffs.
I’m also the guy who said I would trade Murray and get a nice return, including a possible number one draft pick, keep Fleury and work out the salary cap issues before October.
My reason for saying so was that I believed that Fleury would be a better goaltender than Murray two or three years from now. I haven’t changed my mind on that because, so far, Fleury hasn’t given me any reason to change.
Murray has been less than spectacular this season, but he has to get a lot of slack for recently having to deal with losing his father.
Fleury has been exactly that – spectacular.
After getting off to a great start in October, he missed two months with a concussion. He comes into Pittsburgh with the second-best goals against average (1.84) and save percentage (.939) in the league, and his record is 18-6 with five wins in a row and eight in his last nine.
As I said, spectacular.
I’m still being laughed at for saying that keeping Fleury would have been the way to go and I’ve been told that no general manager in the league would have done it.
Maybe Fleury’s on his way to proving those GMs wrong.
I have nothing against Murray and no reason to believe that he’s not going to be a starting goalie in the NHL for the next 15 years or more.
But, that’s why I thought trading him would have been a good move. He had tremendous value.
He was also, despite having just won Two Stanley Cups, somewhat unproven. He’s still never proven that he can play 75 or 80 games a year, which Fleury did in two runs to the Cup Final when he was Murray’s age.
Fleury is 33. That’s not old for a goalie. In fact, it may be prime time.
Goaltending is about so much more than reflexes and athletic ability, both of which Fleury has always had. It’s about positioning and anticipation and that only improves with playing time and age. He’s faced 22,789 shots and stopped 20,127 of them. Do you think there’s a shot from an angle or a deflection that he hasn’t seen?
Patrick Roy, another pretty good French goalie, had his best goals against average – 1.94 – when he was 36.
When Dominik Hasek was 36, he had a 2.21 goals against average and led the league in shutouts with 11.
There’s no reason to believe that Fleury’s best hockey is behind him. There’s an even better chance that he’s peaking right now.
So, if you show up at the game Tuesday night, there’s no reason to believe that you’re watching a guy who’s ready to go on a farewell tour.
There’s a good chance you’ll be watching a guy who’s on the way to proving his former team made a mistake in not figuring out a way to keep him.