Something’s not quite right with Marc-Andre Fleury. Over the past 20 games or so it’s impossible to argue anything other.
He’s allowed four or more goals in three straight and 10 of his last 19 starts. His save percentage in the last 20 games is .894, a mark he’s never hit for an entire season. He’s posted just one shutout in his last 22 games, and maybe most importantly he’s allowing at least one goal pretty much every night that we say “he should have stopped that one.”
The passing of Fleury’s father undoubtedly has something to do with the decline in recent performance, but no one, including Fleury himself, would be able to explain how long it will affect him. Clearly, based on early-season performance (he was selected as an All Star), age is not the issue, which leads most to believe that this rut is temporary.
The question now is how long will it last and what should the Golden Knights do while it’s going on.
This is one that no one has a correct answer for as it’s uncharted waters for everyone involved. So, instead of making a suggestion, here are the pros and cons of a few of the potential options the Golden Knights have.
Stick to the original plan
Continue playing Fleury 4 of every 5 or so and rest him on back-to-backs
Pro: Often times the best way to overcome something is to attempt to return to normalcy. To this point, it hasn’t quite happened for Fleury, but with a player as talented as him, it’s fair to expect him to bounce back to form at some point. Staying with the original plan shows confidence in him and sends the message that there’s full belief from the organization that he’ll bounce back.
Con: How long can you stick with normalcy before admitting to a problem? Since returning on December 10th, Fleury has allowed 37 goals in 11 games and posted a save percentage of .887. 20 games? 30 games? Any time a change is made, it’s easier to compare results. If no change is made and the results continue, the issue becomes wasted time. Maybe things will work themselves out without any drastic measures being taken, but if they don’t, games and days will be lost.
Fight it head-on
Keeping playing Fleury every game
Pro: Every goalie says the same thing when it comes to playing their best, “the more I play the more comfortable I get.” So, the idea would be to completely ignore the results and simply believe that he’ll eventually overcome it and get back to his normal dominant self. Playing him every night is the fastest solution and it’s likely the one with the highest probability of success.
Con: There could be a lot of pucks in the Golden Knights net while he works through it. Letting him battle through is admitting to not putting your team in the best position to win on any given night. Short term be damned, long term is the most important. Also, this would likely have a negative impact on Malcolm Subban. He’s proven to be at his best when he gets regular starts. Forcing Fleury out there until he re-finds his game could hinder Subban when he does eventually get back in.
Go to 50/50
Swap starts back and forth between the two
Pro: A balance between the two would seem to benefit everybody. Fleury would be getting consistent game action to overcome the problem but not too much that the losses stack up if he continues to struggle. Subban would also be getting consistent starts as well which would likely help him play at his best. It’s the least invasive solution.
Con: Is this just a band-aid? Trying to cover up a problem is usually not the best way to actually correct it. It’s the slowest option. Taking a few games off Fleury’s plate would probably lead to him taking even longer to right the ship if he ever does.
Make Subban the starter temporarily
Use the opposite of the normal plan, Subban for 4 of every 5 and rest him on back-to-backs
Pro: At the moment, it’s probably the best solution for the team to keep winning games. Subban has been better than Fleury for about a month according to every measure. This will take a lot of the pressure off Fleury and would allow him to work through some of the issues in practice. He’d get starts here and there and if he’s good they can continue riding him.
Con: When Fleury has been at his worst in his career it’s been when he is not the undisputed starter. He’s admitted on several occasions that he doesn’t feel his best when he’s not getting regular starts. If he’s struggling with regular time in the net, taking it away from him has a strong chance to make it even worse.
Give Fleury a true month off
Send him away from the team through the All Star Break and go with Subban and Dansk/Sparks
Pro: The Golden Knights play just six games in the next 22 days. There are no back-to-backs and five of the six teams are out of the playoff picture. If this is truly a mental issue, the best thing for him may just be to be completely away from the game of hockey for a little while longer. There’s no better time on the schedule to do it. Also, Subban has performed his best in both the first season and this season when Fleury has not been with the team at all (whether that’s coincidence or not, it’s true).
Con: Aside from hope, is there really anything that points to this actually having a likelihood of success? How is Fleury supposed to get better at stopping pucks if he’s not trying playing in games or participating in practice? Also, missing Fleury from the locker room is never good for a team that consistently calls him their undisputed leader. Finally, there’s a major waste of time aspect here. If this doesn’t work, you can’t get those games back.