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Where Actually Would The Golden Knights Be Without Marc-Andre Fleury?

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If the season ended today (which would be really nice), the Golden Knights would be raising their third division banner in four seasons to the rafters, they’d be among the top five in the NHL in points percentage, and they’d probably be the favorites to reach at least the semifinals, if not win the Stanley Cup.

Also, one prominent figure in VGK history would likely be in line for an award that has alluded him during his entire illustrious career. That, of course, is Marc-Andre Fleury winning the Vezina Trophy for best goaltender in the NHL.

Fleury has played in 19 of the Golden Knights’ 25 games, he’s won 14 of them and registered shutouts in four. He currently leads the NHL in save percentage, goals against average, goals allowed adjusted, and shutouts, and he is #2 in GSAA and #3 in goalie point shares.

To put it as simply as possible, Marc-Andre Fleury has been the best player on the Golden Knights, he’s been the best goalie in the NHL, and he’s among the top 10 players in the entire league this season.

And to think, this is a player the Golden Knights benched during the playoffs last season in favor of a trade deadline acquisition. It’s a player they essentially decided had seen his best years pass him by and were looking to move in the offseason. It’s a player, that, in all likelihood, if any other team in the NHL was willing to take on his $7 million salary, would not be on the Golden Knights right now.

So, that begs the question, where would the Golden Knights be if they had traded Fleury?

To answer that question, I’m going to attack it from a variety of different statistical angles. Obviously, the off-ice portion of his game cannot be qualified, but we’ll try to factor that in at the end as well. So, here goes.

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Pacioretty Calls Fleury The “Heart and Soul” Of The Team And Organization

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Tonight against the St. Louis Blues, the Golden Knights will be without their leader. Sure, Mark Stone will be in the lineup but he’s not the only captain on the team. Marc-Andre Fleury will miss some unexpected time after being placed on the NHL’s COVID list yesterday afternoon. Not only will Vegas be without their star goaltender, but without their “heart and soul” as well.

Indescribable how much that guy means to our team. On and off the ice. It’s really nice to see him get rewarded this year with amazing performances this far. -Max Pacioretty to NBC Sports during 3/10 game

Teammate Max Pacioretty shared his feelings about his goaltender during an interview with NBC Sports during the last Golden Knights game. His comments almost sounded like a reminder to any of the Fleury doubters from last season. Pacioretty didn’t need to convince teammates, and certainly not the Golden Knights the fans. The city adores Fleury, and not only because he occasionally treats them to a dozen donuts.

This season has gone relatively smooth on the ice for the Golden Knights, but off the ice it’s been a bit hectic. Fleury joins several other teammates to be placed on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list this season. When the team’s schedule was previously interrupted, no one was as sharp as the 36-year-old goaltender. Off a long layoff or playing a back-to-back, Fleury settled down the Golden Knights with his confidence, consistency, and reliability. Which is somewhat surprising, considering his role was undetermined to begin the season.

But it’s way beyond that. He’s the heart and soul of this team, of this organization and we’re just so happy to have a guy like that. -Pacioretty to NBC Sports during 3/10 game

As a former NHL captain, Pacioretty can identify and understands what it’s like to be a leader. His acknowledgment of Fleury’s importance suggests that they weren’t even sure what to expect, especially coming off a postseason and offseason of uncertainty. The goaltender didn’t know where he stood with the organization, but he knew where he stood with his teammates, which is one of the reasons why he’s so respected. Even in a mountain of confusion, Fleury shed the outside distractions and performed like a number one goalie. It’s subtle, but that’s leadership.

When I look back at my career he’s going to be one of those guys you’re just thankful you’re able to come to the rink everyday and be around. -Pacioretty to NBC Sports during 3/10 game

Not only will Pacioretty, other current and former teammates look back and be thankful for Fleury but so will the fans. In hockey, things tend to work themselves out. Thankfully, everything worked in net and Fleury’s back to leading his team on and off the ice.

Tonight though, Vegas will have to do it without their heart and soul.

MARC-ANDRE FLEURY PLACED ON NHL’S COVID PROTOCOL LIST

Fleury To Former GM: “Get Me To Vegas”

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This past offseason most Golden Knights fans thought the face of the franchise would be traded. Based on reports, it almost happened. However, that face, Marc-Andre Fleury, made it known publicly that he desired to stay in Las Vegas and hadn’t asked to be moved. Luckily for the Golden Knights front office, a deal never materialized.

The front office that gifted the Golden Knights with the future Hall of Famer knew long before, that Fleury wanted to resume his career in Las Vegas.

I knew he had lots, lots left in him. In Fleury’s case, when he knew that he was the odd man out he came and met with me and said ‘if there’s any way you can get me to Las Vegas, that’s where I’d like to go.’ So, I made sure I made that happen. I felt like I owed that to him. –Jim Rutherford, former Penguins GM w/ Cam & Strick podcast

Long before his name was called by The Creator in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, Fleury was focused on becoming the starting goaltender for the Golden Knights.

After being drafted by Vegas, the 33-year-old, at the time, went on to have one of the best seasons of his career. After losing his starting position in Pittsburgh, the “I’ll show them” motivation factor was high for Fleury. Sort of like what’s happening this season.

I’m emotionally connected to guys that I win a championship with. The Marc-Andre Fleury trade was the hardest one for me, because I love the guy. He’s a special, very special person. –Rutherford, former Penguins GM

Last night’s 1-0 defeat to Minnesota was only Fleury’s fourth of the season. In those four losses, the goaltender allowed eight goals combined. He’s second in the league with a 2.04 GAA in losses, and number one overall with a 1.57 GAA. Win or lose, the numbers show that Fleury keeps his team in the game more than any other goalie in the NHL.

Of course, they’ll be no way to prove it but the handwriting was on the wall for the goaltender and the new franchise. Pittsburgh knew they had to move on, Fleury was aware and the Golden Knights were opportunistic. It was the perfect second marriage, and both parties were excited to form a union of misfits.

I make a lot of trades, I’m not going to get them all right. When I don’t get one right I’m not afraid to say it. I move on. –Rutherford, former Penguins GM

It was set up to be a storybook ending for Fleury in Vegas, but questionable decisions seemed to derail that path, until now. He told Rutherford in 2017, and Golden Knights fans in 2020, the goaltender wanted to be in Vegas and didn’t want to leave Vegas. His performance this season is showing that.

Oh, and make no doubts about it, Fleury has a little motivation to prove them wrong. He didn’t need to but he does nightly.

Fresh Fleury Key To Tonight’s Back-To-Back

Since the inaugural 2017-18 season, Marc-Andre Fleury has started 169 games for the Golden Knights. His stout record of 102-53-14 has been one, if not the major reason for Vegas’ instant NHL success. This year the 36-year-old has played as well as he ever has since his arrival to Las Vegas. Once expected to start 50% or less games this year, the 36-year-old had his only night off in four weeks last night.

Since Fleury’s Last Game Off
10 Starts: 7-3-0 Record
9.37 Save Percentage
1.90 Goals Allowed Per Game
2 Shutouts
600:53 Minutes Played
9 Combined Off Days

Fleury has made 35 starts as a Golden Knights off two days of rest. When the goaltender is fresh, he’s one of hockey’s best. In four seasons, his overall save percentage is .917, and drops ever-so slightly to .911 on two days rest. Not only has Fleury performed well this season with limited days off, but he’s as good when he’s fresh.

The goaltender has been so reliable that it’s been tough for coaches to sit him. Fleury’s been such an anchor this season, that it’s difficult for coach Pete DeBoer to rely on anyone else for more than one start in a row. Dating back to 2017-18, Fleury has started 81 times on one days rest. Including six times this season, where his SV% wildly increased to .944.

Another record that benefits the Golden Knights tonight is their strong response when playing the second leg of a back-to-back. This season Vegas’ record is 1-0 and overall 5-2 under Pete DeBoer. Including, a 2-1 mark in three back-to-backs last summer in the playoff bubble.

The Sharks will come hard just like they did yesterday, but it’ll be tougher to comeback from a three goal deficit with Fleury in net. Oh, and I forgot to mention he’s 11-4-4 lifetime against San Jose. Yep, tonight is setting up for a vintage Fleury performance.

Pat McAfee Commits To Donate $100,000 To Charity If Fleury Scores A Goal

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Vezina frontrunner Marc-Andre Fleury joined former NFL punter turned radio superstar Pat McAfee’s radio show today in what became a must-hear interview.

Fleury chatted about pranks he’s pulled on the road, hitting guys in the balls when the refs aren’t looking, Stanley Cup celebrations, and so much more.

Near the end of the interview McAfee, while showing off his puckhandling skills, tells Fleury he’s willing to donate $100,000 to a charity of Fleury’s choice if the three-time Cup winner scores his first career goal this season.

Ah jeez, you’re going to get me trying every night now. -Fleury on Pat McAfee Show

The interview is about as good as it gets if you are a fan of Fleury and/or the Golden Knights. Give it a watch, you won’t regret it.

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McPhee On Goalies: “I Hope We’ll Get Back To Alternating Again”

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At some point, Robin Lehner will return to the Golden Knights and they’ll once again have two legitimate starting goaltending options every single night. Prior to losing Lehner, the Golden Knights had alternated goalies every game and raced out to a spectacular 8-1-1 record, eclipsing the start of the historic expansion team.

I’m sure at the start of the season we’ll look at a 50-50 split to get their games established. Then we’ll go from there and all bets are off. -Pete DeBoer on 1/9/21

Since February 11th, when Marc-Andre Fleury got the surprise start, he’s started all six games for the Golden Knights. During that time he’s posted an impressive .956 save percentage, allowing just eight goals on 181 shots, and recording two shutouts of the Colorado Avalanche.

So, when Lehner returns, what is the plan?

Appearing on the Bob McCown Podcast, Geroge McPhee stated his preference.

In talking about the Lake Tahoe game, McPhee mentioned that both teams were using their #1 goalies. The co-host, John Shannon, later recalled that comment asking if Fleury was indeed the team’s #1 goalie. McPhee nodded in agreement and then added this.

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Fleury Flourishes On Extended Start Streaks

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

At some point, Marc-Andre Fleury will need a break. He’s in the midst of a seven-game start streak, his fifth-longest regular season consecutive game stretch as a Golden Knight. With Vegas though, Fleury tends to thrive in these situations. When the 36-year-old is given the reins for an extended amount of time he’s been extremely reliable.

Since 2017-18, Fleury has started seven-straight games or more six separate times. His combined point percentage is .666 in those 57 contests and has a losing record just once.

Seven+ Game Start Streaks

2021: 7 Straight Starts (4-3)
2019-20: 9 Straight Starts (6-3)
2018-19: 13 Straight Starts (10-2-1)
2018-19: 7 Straight Starts (3-4)
2017-18: 11 Straight Starts (7-3-1)
2017-18: 10 Straight Starts (6-4)

Combined Winning Percentage: .631%
Combined Points Percentage: .666%

Fleury’s current streak is mostly out of necessity. Going into the season, the veteran goalie was expected to split most of the games with Robin Lehner. With Lehner unavailable, Fleury has played 11 out of 16 games this season and is on pace to start 38. Much more than the coaching staff had planned.

Last night’s performance was a great example of Fleury’s capability. After playing 11 straight periods against Colorado, the 36-year-old was making acrobatic saves late in the game to preserve his third shutout of the year. Even against the same high-powered Avalanche team he faced in four consecutive games, Fleury seemed the least tired player out there.

Now that the Golden Knights have finished their four-game series against Colorado, the upcoming schedule allows some opportunities to rest Fleury. On Thursday night, Vegas will travel to San Jose, a team that struggles to keep the puck out of their own net. Maybe that’s a game coach Pete DeBoer can comfortably rest his netminder. Also, with there being two days in between games, Fleury could have four days of rest before his next start.

As the schedule creeps towards March, the heavy competition goes away for a few weeks. The next eight matchups are against the Sharks, Ducks, and Wild. The Golden Knights are significantly better than all three and the coaching staff should look to use their schedule to spell Fleury some starts, even if Lehner isn’t ready to come back. Vegas will need what we can now confidently say is their number one goaltender fresh for when they face St. Louis and Colorado later in March.

With his third shutout of the season in his pocket, we all know the 17-year veteran will want to play the bulk of the remaining games. Who can blame him? Fleury’s having an All-Star type season, wants to be in the Vezina discussion and prove to his bosses they were wrong. I say let him compete for trophies, just as long as he can take a few games off here and there. DeBoer can save Fleury’s 28 consecutive start streak for the postseason.

Golden Knights Among William Hill’s Individual Award Odds

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As we inch closer to the Golden Knights’ opening night, here’s a friendly reminder that time is running out on placing 2021 future odds. Ken picked sides on William Hill’s team point totals earlier in the month, now I’m attacking league leaders and player award odds.

In last year’s shortened season Max Pacioretty finished with a team-leading 32 regular season goals. The veteran’s total was good enough for 13th most in the NHL. This year, in an even shorter season, Pacioretty is 22-1 to lead all scorers in goals.

*To see all odds, download the William Hill Mobile Sports App. Sign up with the promo code GET50 and they’ll match your first $50 bet.*

NHL’s Leading Scorer odds:
Auston Matthews +500
Alex Ovechkin +600
Connor McDavid +850
Leon Draisaitl +850
Nathan MacKinnon +1000

Golden Knights to be NHL Leading Scorer odds:
Max Pacioretty 22/1
William Karlsson 75/1
Mark Stone 100/1
Reilly Smith 125/1

It’s a tall order for any of the Golden Knights to outscore super offensive studs like McDavid, Ovechkin, and Matthews but it is a unique season and there may be value with a couple of Vegas forwards. It might seem like a long shot but dropping a sawbuck or two on Karlsson to lead the league in scoring would bring back a nice return. Remember Karlsson’s 43 goals scored in 2017-18 was done playing with Marchessault and Smith, who he is set to play with again this season.

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Washington Suddenly Needs A Goalie; Could A Deal With VGK Make Sense?

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The hockey world was dealt some unfortunate news yesterday morning when Henrik Lundqvist announced he was going to have to sit out the entire season due to a heart condition.

The former Ranger star signed with the Capitals for a paltry $1.5 million against the cap this offseason. The only other NHL quality goalies, and it’s debatable in both cases, on the Washington roster currently are 23-year-old Ilya Samsonov and 28-year-old Pheonix Copley.

Clearly, the Caps felt they needed help at the position and shored it up by signing Lundqvist, but without him, one has to wonder if they are in the market for another goalie to hold down the fort.

Meanwhile, the Golden Knights remain in a situation in which they are trying to unload a future hall-of-fame goalie and his $7 million cap hit. Could there be a potential match between the teams to kill two birds with one stone?

I was asked this question quite a bit following Lundqvist’s announcement and my initial thought was absolutely not. That was mainly based on the fact that the Capitals are pushing up against the cap and simply don’t have the space to take on half of Fleury’s salary, let alone all of it like Vegas would prefer. But, when I dug a bit more into the idea, if a third team were to step in and “broker” the deal, it could make sense for everyone.

So, what does that look like? Teams like New Jersey, Nashville, Columbus, Detroit, Los Angeles, Ottawa, and a few others could be potential options to step in as the third party to broker the swap. Let’s use Detroit as an example because I think they fit best based on their rebuild status and expected willingness to buy draft picks.

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