A franchise that was supposed to take years to truly become a contender was able to achieve that status overnight and with the roster heading into 2019-20, they are looking to take that final step.
Vegas has seven key players signed through the next four seasons. They have another five under contract for each of the next three. Sure, they are pushed up against the cap now, but even with the impending moves, this team is ready to be a favorite in the Western Conference.
There is however one specific piece of the puzzle though that is so crucial to the team’s success, but also might be the most volatile of all.
He plays the most important position on the ice and he’s played it at an incredibly high level since coming to Vegas. Because of it, the Golden Knights have made back-to-back playoff appearances and raised a pair of banners in the rafters.
But Fleury is 34-years-old and will turn 35 early this season. If there’s one thing we know about sports, it’s that Father Time is undefeated. Some guys maintain their peak level of play longer than others, but every player in the history of sports eventually reaches a point where they just can’t do it anymore.
That day will come for Fleury, and the major question is what happens to the Golden Knights when it does.
Certainly, Marc-Andre is tremendously important to our team’s success and we are very fortunate to have a player of his ability and add to that his leadership and his character makes him a big big part of our team. We’ve never ever talked about shaping the rest of our team based on any player’s particular window. We’ll always be a team that’s trying to build around a core of good players and that’s our focus now and we need Marc-Andre to be a big part of that. -McCrimmon
The idea is to have a good enough core to be able to withstand any one piece’s demise. Sounds noble, but is it realistic when talking about Fleury?
We can only hope.
Otherwise, they better find another sucker to give away a Hall of Famer.
The Golden Knights weren’t able to repeat as Western Conference Champions (#NotAMajor), but they were able to successfully defend another title in year 2018-19.
For the second straight year, the Golden Knights sold the most jerseys in the NHL according to CMO Brian Killingsworth.
In Year 1, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the expansion team would top the list as literally every fan had to buy a new jersey. But to keep it up in Year 2 is quite the achievement.
The Golden Knights also topped the NHL in sales per cap (measured by fans/attendance) at in-arena team stores. And, Killingsworth confirmed during the 2018 playoff run people from over 110 countries bought Golden Knights apparel.
Marc-Andre Fleury finished atop the list of Golden Knights players for most jerseys sold and ranked 3rd behind Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.
The top five Golden Knights jerseys sold were:
Killingsworth noted that Mark Stone made a strong push towards the top five in the few months following the trade deadline but didn’t quite crack the top five.
All in all, another year of dominance in the apparel market for the Golden Knights. It will be challenging to repeat as champs again in Years 3 and 4, and even tougher in Year 5 with the Seattle expansion franchise coming in, but if any city can do it, it’s Vegas.
And as this series heads to SAP Center Thursday for what could be a series-ending Game 5 following an impressive 5-0 victory at T-Mobile Arena Tuesday night, it’s a fact Fleury has been a big part of why the Knights hold a 3-1 series lead.
He’s getting better with each period of each game. He wasn’t great in the 5-2 loss to the Sharks in Game 1. And after letting in three late first-period goals in Game 2, Fleury has been virtually unbeatable.
I’m not blaming him for the loss or the trio of goals allowed in Game 2. But he’s doing what you want your goalie to do — stop the easy ones, make a few spectacular saves, be the first line of defense on the penalty kill and keep your team in the game.
He’s tracking the puck with laser precision. He’s always a step ahead of the Sharks in anticipating where the play is going to be. His positioning is spot on. And he’s moving well in his crease and post to post.
In other words, Fleury is being Fleury. He stopped all 28 shots he faced in recording his 15th career playoff shutout, tying Chris Osgood for fourth place on the NHL’s career list.
I have felt good all playoffs. They are a good team, it’s not over obviously. It was a big game tonight and a big win for us. One game at a time. -Fleury
The win, Fleury’s 78th in the playoffs, moved him past Mike Vernon into seventh place on the all-time list for goaltender wins. Next is Ken Dryden, who had 80 postseason victories. Patrick Roy is the career leader in playoff wins with 151.
It is really cool. I have been very fortunate to play on a lot of good teams and again this year. It is very humbling to be amongst these guys who I grew up watching. -Fleury
His play Tuesday did not go unnoticed by his coach, his teammates and his opponent.
He played awesome the first two periods. We weren’t happy with our game. Obviously, we got out to the 1-0 lead in the first shift fortunately for us so that was big, but we didn’t play our type of game for two periods. I thought and we played a lot better in the third. Fleury was huge, when we needed him, he was huge. -Gerard Gallant
This from Shea Theodore:
I think when you watch him out there and he makes those saves, you see how confident he is. Even when he is playing the puck, he is confident with it and he always makes the right decisions. –Theodore
And San Jose coach Peter DeBoer tipped his hat to Fleury.
I thought we created a lot of chances on the other end, but you have to give Fleury credit. He frustrated us tonight and allowed them to be in the position they were in the third. -DeBoer
The Knights have done an awful lot of things well in this series. The line of Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone have dominated and the Sharks still haven’t found an answer for them. They’re doing the little things well, like winning faceoffs. They’re outhitting the Sharks.
What Vegas has not done well is avoiding penalties. They’re taking way too many, and it’s going to catch up with the Knights. Maybe not in this series, but perhaps in the next round. Fleury has been tremendous in standing up to the barrages of shots the Sharks have fired at him when they have the man advantage and that’s what you hope your goalie will do. Tuesday, San Jose went 0-4 on the power play and they are just 3 for 20 in the series (15%).
**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.**
It was a simple transaction announcement Tuesday afternoon — Maxime Lagace was being returned to the AHL Chicago Wolves.
But the news behind the news was huge. It meant Marc-Andre Fleury was returning to active duty for the Golden Knights. And the timing couldn’t have been better.
Or more critical.
We last saw Fleury in goal back on March 15 in a 2-1 win over the Dallas Stars in Texas. Since then, he had been given time off, reportedly having sustained a lower-body injury. His wife Veronique was also giving birth to the family’s third child, this time, a boy. And it didn’t hurt for Fleury to reboot things mentally as well as heal up physically.
No doubt the time off had to have done him a lot of good. And the reality was the Golden Knights weren’t catching Calgary and winning the Pacific Division. So the decision to shut Fleury down was a wise one.
He has had a wonderful season, arguably one of his best of his NHL career. In 59 games, he has a 35-19-5 record, eight shutouts, a 2.46 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage. He probably won’t win the Vezina Trophy, which goes to the NHL’s top goalie, but he had played himself into the conversation over the first half of the year.
Don’t forget, he’s no kid anymore. The guy is 34 years old, but given the high standard of his play, Fleury remains the most critical piece of the Knights’ puzzle going forward into the postseason next week.
He will be expected to put the team on his back and take them as far as he can. That was the case last year as Fleury was brilliant through the first three rounds of the playoffs and he played well in the Stanley Cup Final too.
He’ll get some playoff preseason work in Thursday against Arizona in the regular-season home finale at T-Mobile Arena and he’ll probably be in net Saturday in the last game of the year in Los Angeles against the Kings. It’ll give him a chance to get his timing back, to reconnect with his defensemen, to help give the Knights some momentum going into the opening round of the playoffs against San Jose and to be back where he is happiest — on the ice.
I don’t know too many players who simply love playing hockey the way Fleury does. It’s almost child-like in his affection for the game. You watch 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds scamper all over the ice and having fun. That’s Fleury, even at age 34.
That kind of love becomes infectious inside the locker room. The players see their goalie having fun and it energizes them. They all tap into the little boy inside each of them.
Yes, this is their job. Yes, they’re paid to win. Yes, there’s tremendous pressure and high expectations on all of them, Fleury included. But when you strip all of that away, it reverts back to why you laced up your skates and grabbed a stick in the first place. There’s something special about riding to the rink, getting on the ice and skating and shooting, or, in Fleury’s case, stopping the puck. Hockey should be fun, even at the NHL level. To Fleury’s credit, he never forgot that.
First there were concerns Marc-Andre Fleury was playing too much, now some are worried he’s been resting for too long. As we patiently wait for Fleury to make his return between the pipes, the question of how he will look when he gets back in there must be asked.
The 34-year-old goaltender has been in net eight times over the last 15, and none of the last six. Last season, Fleury played 16 out of Vegas’ last 20 and was unbelievable in the Golden Knights goal throughout the playoffs.
Over the past four seasons, Fleury has had various percentages of starts down the stretch and all show signs of consistency in the playoffs.
In 2016-17, Fleury played eight of the last 20 games splitting time with Matt Murray. That Penguins team, of course, went on to win the Cup. Fleury started the first 15 games winning two series (CBJ-5 games, WAS- 7 games) but was relieved of his duties after Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Pittsburgh went on to win seven of the next 11 games with Murray in net. The light schedule for Fleury didn’t impact his performance for 15 postseason games. He had a .924 save percentage and allowed 2.56 goals per game before getting the hook.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan was very confident in both goaltenders.
Both of these guys have helped this team win all year long. They’re both high-quality people and they’re high-quality goaltenders. We never take these decisions lightly. They’re extremely difficult decisions. This is the choice that we made for Game 4. –Mike Sullivan
The season prior, Fleury started 12 out of the Penguins last 20 games. He ended the season with 58 games played but his time would come to an end quickly in the postseason. Fleury dropped the first two games of a first round series and was replaced with Murray for the remainder of their Stanley Cup run. Fleury posted a dismal .875 save percentage in those two games.
In 2014-15, Fleury played 16 of the last 20 regular season games. The Penguins lost went on to lose to the New York Rangers in the first round. Fleury was terrific though. He limited the Rangers to just 2.12 goals per game and put up a .927 save percentage.
**Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.**
The Golden Knights had but one representative at Saturday’s NHL All-Star Game in San Jose. And while you may quibble over the Knights having just one player participate, no one can argue about the validity of the player who was selected.
Marc-Andre Fleury belongs in the All-Star Game and this was his fourth appearance in the event.
More important, Fleury is playing at a very high level. Some would argue his performance to date in 2018-19 ranks among his best since he came into the NHL back in 2003. He is 34 years old. He is feeling great. He leads the NHL with six shutouts. And while the Knights are going to make the playoffs, think of where they might be right now if not for Fleury being able to play the majority of the games?
He has played in 45 of Vegas’ 52 games with a record of 27-14-4. Fleury has a 2.59 goals-against average, a .911 save percentage and the six shutouts.
Yes, there should be some concern come the postseason as to his freshness. Assuming there are no mishaps, he’s looking at playing anywhere from 65 to 70 games in net during this season. But that’s a discussion for down the road.
For now, let’s focus on where Fleury is at and where he is going as it pertains to his overall career.
Today, Fleury has 431 wins in the NHL. That places him ninth on the all-time list for victories as a goaltender. He is six wins from tying Jacques Plante, who has 437. He may also catch Terry Sawchuk, who is No. 7 at 445, later this year.
He has already passed Dominik Hasek, Grant Fuhr, Glenn Hall and Tony Esposito in making his way into the top 10. He is one of three active goaltenders on the Top-10 list — Florida’s Roberto Luongo is fourth with 481 wins and Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers is sixth at 446.
Here is the complete Top-10 list of NHL goaltenders wins:
Martin Brodeur* — 691 wins
Patrick Roy* — 551
Ed Belfour* — 484
Roberto Luongo — 481
Curtis Joseph — 454
Henrik Lundqvist — 446
Terry Sawchuk* — 445
Jacques Plante* — 437
MARC-ANDRE FLEURY — 431
Tony Esposito* — 423
*Denotes member of Hockey Hall of Fame
Fleury has played against some of these guys. Others he had watched play as a kid growing up in Sorel, Quebec. A couple he had to go to YouTube and Wikipedia to check out. But I thought it would be interesting to get his views on some of the goalies he has passed and some he continues to chase on the list.
I did not ask about Luongo and Lundqvist since they are still active and Fleury has talked about them in the past.
They’re all great players, obviously. They have different styles but they all did the same thing — stop the puck. It’s an honor to be on the (top-10) list. -Marc-Andre Fleury
Let’s start at the top and work our way down.
Martin Brodeur played from 1991-2005 with the New Jersey Devils. He has three Stanley Cup rings. In 17 NHL seasons, he had a 2.01 goals-against average.
I could always see him smile through his mask. I thought that was pretty cool. He was a guy who was very unpredictable. He would use the poke check or stack the pads and I always liked that about him. He was always consistent. He played a lot of games year after year and he was always good. Always very solid. He could read the play so well. He didn’t move so much and he was always in the right spot. –Fleury on Brodeur
Patrick Roy played from 1984-2003 with the Montreal Canadiens and later, the Colorado Avalanche. He has four Stanley Cup titles and had 66 shutouts.
I was a big Montreal fan and I was excited when they won in 1986 and ’93. What comes to mind is he was a fierce competitor. He was always battling. He was very confident and he had that butterfly style and that’s how I learned from him. He was tall for that era but it worked out for him. He was so good for him. He definitely influenced me. -Fleury on Roy
Ed Belfour played from 1988 to 2007. He spent eight years with the Chicago Blackhawks and five with the Dallas Stars. His one Stanley Cup title came with Dallas in 1999. He also played for San Jose, Toronto and Florida.
I got to play against him a bit which was pretty cool. I thought he moved around well for a big goalie. He stayed on his feet and was good at reading the play. He wasn’t hurt much and he played until he was 40, I think. -Fleury on Belfour
Curtis Joseph played from 1989-2009. He spent his career with six different NHL teams, beginning in St. Louis, then with Edmonton, and Toronto. He also had a brief stop in Las Vegas playing with the Thunder in 1995-96 where he appeared in 15 games.
It was a good old-fashioned Vegas roast on the latest episode of the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast. Host Rear Admiral and former NHL’ers Ryan Whitney and Paul “BizNasty” Bissonette welcomed Golden Knights star’s Marc-Andre Fleury, Nate Schmidt and Ryan Reaves to an evening at the Friars Club.
Coming right off the faceoff, the trio wasted no time bagging on Vegas’ early struggles, and Nate Schmidt’s suspension.
What happened early in the year? -Bissonette
Couldn’t tell you about the first twenty. -Schmidt
Schmitty let us down, you know. -Fleury
Oh, c’mon! -Schmidt
After Fleury cracked up the room with his playful knock on his teammate, the gang asked Schmidt to get into his little stint in Vienna.
I would practice, I’d get bag skated everyday by this Finnish coach. He would come out with no stick, no gloves and put his hands behind his back and just skate up and down the ice. Fifteen laps was their pregame skate one day. I got back to the bench and looked up in the stands at the GM and go, ‘where am I?’ I’m going to be in the best shape of my life when I go back.” -Schmidt
Bag skating is a term players use when coaches are riding them hard in practice. It might be before or after practice, and it could be a variation of laps, goal line to goal line sprints, or suicide laps. Which are even exhausting to think about.
I was bag skating everyday. Five, six times a week. They take their skating a little more seriously. They skate, and skate, and skate. -Schmidt
Schmidt was asked if he traveled with the Vienna Capitals, his adopted club. The never bashful defenseman, although ashamed, openly admitted to some sweet star treatment in Europe.
I went on the road with them one game. The only problem was, this is terrible, the GM and I flew to this place and the rest of team bussed it. It was a nine hour bus ride from Zurich… I was rested. -Schmidt
The Golden Knights defenseman added that training in Vienna was…
Before Christmas, a college hockey showcase took place at the City National Arena featuring dozens of hopefuls looking to be recruited by NCAA hockey programs. I spoke with several college coaches, and not many of them were there to scout goaltenders. Mostly centers and defenseman. I asked why such low interest in goaltending, and one coach told me that all of the good goaltenders in the country have already committed or is currently playing in college. So the odds of finding a goaltender at a college showcase is very low.
What was interesting was this coach went on to explain he tries to sway youth players away from playing goaltender. And he’s looking out for their best interest.
Haha, yeah I’ve heard that. Different goalies and coaches tell their sons to play out in the ice and score some goals. -Marc Andre Fleury
I asked the former #1 Overall Pick, a 425 NHL game winner, three-time Stanley Cup champion, future Hall of Famer… oh heck, I asked the goalie with a million accolades Marc-Andre Fleury about youth goaltending.
If you’re the number one or one of the older guys a lot of the times they play more. Otherwise you sit on the bench. You don’t improve because you’re not playing. -Fleury
Think about it, in a game only one goalie plays for a team. There’s only two per dressing room. On every NHL roster you’ll notice nineteen positional players and only two goaltenders. So essentially, there are only 62 NHL goaltending jobs in the world. Keep in mind there are roughly 600 other players in the NHL. Pretty tough to make the show with such limited number of netminding jobs.
“The parents pay for a season and the kid sits on the bench all season. It stinks. So I can definitely see that point of view.”-Fleury
Subban looks lonely on the VGK bench, imagine how it feels for the backup on a bantam team.
Like Fleury mentioned, if a young goaltender isn’t playing then he’s sitting on the bench not improving. Possibly missing out on future opportunities on the ice. A young, less skilled forward or defenseman will get the ice time to work on their craft, a backup goalie does not. Which is why youth and college coaches suggest kids try all positions to see which really fits best. Not all young goalies can be the consensus number one goaltender in the world at age seventeen like Fleury was.
“My mom always thought it was a little stressful watching me playing goalie growing up. People yelling when they scored on me. I just had the most fun out there.”-Marc Andre Fleury
At the youth level the cost of goalie pads are more expensive than other positions. Competition is tight so ice time is limited. Scholarships don’t come easy for goaltenders, leaving parents footing the tuition bill. And if a young goaltender ends up getting drafted, there are less than 100 NHL positions too look forward to. The odds are certainly stacked against them.
So, I guess the moral here is tell your future NHL’er that it’s best to start off as one of the other nineteen positions. I don’t know, tell them chicks dig centers, and d-men are the best skaters on the team. This way they can look ahead to playing in high school, college and possibly further. Unless, of course your child is the next Marc-Andre Fleury. In that case email Dave Prior.
The Golden Knights have the next three days completely off, meaning no games, practice, and no media availability. They currently sit in 3rd place in the Pacific Division with 44 points in 39 games. That’s one point behind the 2nd place Sharks and one ahead of the 4th place Ducks.
There are a few topics I wanted to discuss but none of them garnered a full article. So, we cram them all into one and call it a day. Here we go.
Brandon Pirri Re-Assigned to AHL
Gone now, but for how long? (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)
Following the overtime loss to the Kings last night the Golden Knights re-assigned Brandon Pirri to the Chicago Wolves. In doing so they also took Max Pacioretty off IR.
Just looking at the moves, this would lead most to believe that Pacioretty will return Thursday and will be slotted back into his normal place in the lineup. That may happen, but it also may not, and Pirri might wind up right back on the 2nd line despite being re-assigned a few days earlier.
Per NHL rules, if a player clears waivers, which Pirri did on October 4th, they must play 10 games or be on the active NHL roster for 30 days before they are eligible for waivers again. Pirri was recalled to the Golden Knights on December 18th and played in games on the 20th, 22nd, and 23rd before being re-assigned on the 23rd. Thus, he’s played three games and spent five days on the roster.
By optioning him back to the Wolves during this three-day break, the Golden Knights still have six available games and 24 days before he must re-clear waivers. The clock is cumulative, so even if this stint with the Golden Knights is over, it restarts if he is called back up again.
What all of this is trying to say is that there’s a practical reason to send Pirri down to the AHL even if VGK intends to play him on Thursday. It may or may not happen, but unlike most situations when a player is returned to the AHL, this one does not necessarily mean his time with the Golden Knights is up.
Struggles Without Main Defensemen
It was well-documented how much the Golden Knights missed Nate Schmidt during his 20 game suspension. They went just 8-11-1 and were much closer to the basement of the Pacific than they were the top.
VGK proving they can’t be without 6 or 88. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)
Over the past two games, they’ve gone 0-0-2 at home while missing Colin Miller due to an upper-body injury.
Deryk Engelland has missed six games this season, the Golden Knights are 3-2-1 in those games.
Brayden McNabb, Shea Theodore, and Nick Holden have played in all 39 games
When Miller and Schmidt are both in the lineup, Vegas is 12-4-1. When one or the other is missing they are 8-11-3.
Defensive depth is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed, whether that be via trade or by giving some of the young AHL prospects a chance. Either way, something needs to be done because no team makes it through the playoffs with just six defensemen.
Vegas has 13 players, including nine forwards that average 0:50 or more per shift. There are only 118 NHL skaters that average 0:50 or more
The Golden Knights have 10 players in the top 100 in the NHL in this category.
Jonathan Marchessault and Alex Tuch lead the team with 0:56 average per shift while Max Pacioretty, Reilly Smith, Paul Stastny, and William Karlsson all average at least 0:53.