Marc-Andre Fleury was the #1 overall pick in the 2003 NHL Draft. He made his debut in the league at the age of 18. He’s posted 12 straight seasons with a save percentage of .905 or better. He’s been named an All Star three times, the same number of times his named is engraved on the Stanley Cup. All of this is a fancy way of saying, Marc-Andre Fleury is really good, and has been really good for a long time.
That’s why when George McPhee said this, it came as quite the shock.
One of the things that appealed to us about bringing (Fleury) in was Dave Prior thought that he can make him an even better goaltender. He was excited, he really advocated for him in our meetings. And thought that he can make him even better than he’s been. -George McPhee
Prior was right, he could, and did, make Fleury better. Fleury posted career highs in save percentage (.927), goals against (2.24), quality start percentage (67.4%), and GSAA (20.77). In his 14th season, he had the best statistical year of his career, and he’s been even better in the playoffs.
He’s helped, definitely. On the ice, I think he changed a few things for me and it’s been working good. -Marc-Andre Fleury
Of course, he wouldn’t go into anything specifically as he “didn’t want to reveal his secrets.” However, a reoccurring theme that’s come up when Prior’s name has been mentioned to Fleury over the course of the season has been a tweak in his mental approach.
I think he’s somebody that wants me to trust in my ability to do things, it doesn’t matter if I had a day off before, if I had morning skate or not. -Fleury
Allow me to read between the lines of how I took that quote, along with other similar ones this season. It seems as if Prior has tried to get Fleury to focus less on practice time and honing his skills, and more on being ready for the games. No one can ever take away the whimsical nature of Fleury, nor would you want to, but it’s possible he was getting in his own head well before the games were ever even played. Fleury has all the skills to be a tremendous goalie in the league and no matter how he fared in off-day practice or morning skate the day of the game, his confidence should never waver.
It’s nothing new to see Fleury playing to the crowd or messing with the ice crew. He’s always been known as a guy who seems to let things roll off him, but if you watch carefully, Fleury HATES when the puck gets past him. In practice, at morning skate, pre-game warmups, or during the game itself, you can see the frustration every time he lets one in.
Again, he wouldn’t tell us specifically so I’m left to put together the puzzle pieces, but it’s likely Prior has tried to instill in Fleury to trust that if he just keeps playing like he can, they won’t keep going in.
Fleury was pulled just once this season and it was in the most meaningless game of the year, the final game of the regular season in Calgary. He allowed five or more goals just four times in 56 starts including the playoffs. Also, think back and try to come up with a single time a game got away from Fleury. Games snowballed on opposing goalies all season long, not once did it happen to Fleury. He never appeared to lose his confidence in a game, he never appeared rattled, and aside from the one time in Calgary, there wasn’t even a single moment all year where anyone thought, they could pull Fleury, let alone it actually happening.
The Golden Knights were defined by the unexpected, but as crazy as William Karlsson’s 43 goals or Nate Schmidt’s rise to the near-elite of NHL blueliners, there may be nothing more unexpected than the consensus best player on the team before the season, a 33-year-old former first overall pick with three Stanley Cups, putting in a career year because a goalie coach who was out of work from 2013 to 2017 said “I can make him better,” and then did it.