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Carp: Don’t Overthink It, Continue The Rotation

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are expected to start next weekend and it’s time for Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer to make what will be the biggest decision of his tenure with Vegas.

Who starts in goal for Game 1?

DeBoer has three options. One, he can go with Marc-Andre Fleury, who has three championship rings. Two, he can play Robin Lehner, who has played well in the past during the postseason but whose name doesn’t appear on the Cup. Option Three is to keep the status quo and maintain the $12 million experiment and rotate Fleury and Lehner.

If he keeps the rotation going, DeBoer breaks with conventional wisdom which is you play one guy and you ride him as far as you can. But this year has been anything but conventional and should DeBoer continue to rotate his goalies in the playoffs, would it shock you if it worked?

Both have done the job and are capable of getting hot. Lehner has played well since returning from a concussion he suffered in February. At times, he has been spectacular, as was the case in overtime in Friday’s 4-3 win over the Blues. He even assisted on Jonathan Marchessault’s game-winner. But from an overall perspective, he is certainly worthy of consideration should DeBoer opt for one goalie.

Fleury has had an outstanding season. He has been dialed in since training camp and he came prepared to win the starter’s job. When Lehner went down with a concussion and missed 18 games, Fleury took on the added workload and delivered. He last lost back on April 7 and is riding an eight-game win streak.

To both goalies’ credit, they handled the rotation plan well. They appear to be supportive of each other and they are looking at winning the Jennings Trophy, which goes to the top goaltending tandem that allows the fewest goals.

Their styles are different. They have their strengths and weaknesses like any player. Both are extremely competitive, which is what you want from those who play the position.

So what should DeBoer do? Or more important, what will he likely do?

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It’s Time For DeBoer To Announce His Decision

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

On February 24th, 2020, the Golden Knights front office made a decision to address their goaltender of the future. That was reiterated last summer, when coach Pete DeBoer “announced” (via actions) Robin Lehner as the postseason starter. A move that shocked fans, media, and the Golden Knights players as well. It was a choice that put the organization in a bit of a conundrum.

DeBoer’s decision to go with Lehner created an unexpected firestorm. Marc-Andre Fleury’s agent and loyal supporter Allan Walsh went to social media and loudly voiced his anger. We all remember what happened from there so we won’t rehash. Looking back, the controversy was avoidable if communication had been more clear.

Based on how this season played out, DeBoer will have to make another tough choice. Let’s face it, he’s in a tough spot. No matter who he names as Game 1 starter some faction of Golden Knights universe will be disappointed. This is why it’s time for the Golden Knights head coach to announce his postseason starting goaltender.

If there’s any concern DeBoer’s net decision will cause another controversy then let it out of the bag now. Once the announcement is made, no matter how it’s taken, it will need time to settle. Doing it now would allow the players to get over their preferences, and solely focus on the postseason, not to mention instilling a level of public confidence for the eventual #1 goalie. But the real reason why now is the right time for DeBoer to publicly announce his starting goaltender is Fleury’s agent.

Say Lehner is named the starting goaltender, we can only assume Walsh will make noise. To combat that, the Golden Knights can get it out of the way now. Let the power agent and other Fleury supporters in the locker room sulk for a few days. It will happen, it’s human nature. Why risk tension in playoffs like last season?

It’s highly unlikely but it’s possible DeBoer hasn’t made up his mind yet. Maybe he needs the final three games to sway his decision. Vegas’ coach might also be planning on continuing with the goalie rotation. If that’s the case, it could be beneficial to announce that to the public. There’s nothing wrong with being more transparent.

Opening up doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a competitive disadvantage,in fact, in this case, it would probably mean a competitive advantage for the Golden Knights.

Pacioretty: We All Thought We Were Capologists

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Golden Knights goal leader Max Pacioretty opened up this week when he joined former NHL’er Ray Ferraro and NHL reporter Darren Dreger on the Ray and Dregs podcast. The forward that recently crossed 600 career points and 800 career games touched on the competitive culture in Vegas, his bromance with Mark Stone, and trying to resolve the Golden Knights salary cap issues.

It’s a pretty volatile league right now and we have been steady. A lot of that has been our depth. We have run into salary cap problems where we couldn’t dress enough players and on some nights even two. Currently, we have a D-man stepping in the forward position. I think all of that adversity and all of those different situations brought us together a little bit closer as a group. I think everyone has felt a little more important about their role on the team. –Max Pacioretty on Ray and Dregs Podcast

When word got out that the Golden Knights organization would have to juggle the lineup in order to be cap compliant, the locker room stepped up. However, it didn’t take long for the players to realize they weren’t qualified.

It was wild because we all thought we were capologists. ‘Why don’t we this and do that? We could’ve played that guy.’ Nobody knew the rule that you have to miss one game and then call up an emergency. We were so out of touch with what the rules were. It was funny at first. Everyone was trying to figure out a solution and it just never came. The fact that everybody has had the right mind set in those situations it’s let our team play differently on some nights and being able to adjust that and being able to win hockey games ultimately while doing so. –Pacioretty on Ray and Dregs Podcast

Maneuvering through murky cap waters was just one example proving Vegas’ dedication towards their future endeavors. It became apparent to Pacioretty how driven the players and front office were when arrived in the summer of 2018.

The 13-year veteran also came to realize how many of the NHL’s top players want to play in Vegas, and the organization was willing to acquire them. The Golden Knights win-first culture is no secret around the league.

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Carp: An Appreciation Of Greatness

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

It has been an interesting week to say the least for the Golden Knights — both on and off the ice.

There was the celebration of a rival’s personal accomplishment. There was the clinching of a fourth consecutive playoff spot. There was an underwhelming response by the NHL and none from the team in the wake of the conviction of the police officer who murdered an unarmed African-American. And at the top of the list, a lengthy impromptu vent by a player to the league’s protocols as it pertains to COVID-19 that wound up going national.

Oh, and the team won a franchise-record ninth straight game Saturday.

But lost in all of that is the franchise’s most popular player inched closer to another milestone. And unless something crazy happens, we will see the spotlight once again shine upon Marc-Andre Fleury as he looks to continue his climb up the NHL’s all-time goaltender wins ladder.

Fleury currently has 487 wins and sits in fourth place on the career victories list. Roberto Luongo, who has 489 Ws and is No. 3, is in his sights. Fleury is scheduled to play Wednesday against Colorado, in what is a huge game for obvious reasons, and again Saturday at Arizona. He can tie Luongo with a pair of wins. That would leave only Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur ahead of Fleury — the two goalies he idolized as a kid growing up in Sorel, Quebec. Brodeur has 691 wins. It’s unlikely Fleury, or anyone else for that matter, catches him.

Roy? He has 551 victories. That number is within reach for Fleury if he can continue to play for a couple more years and have success.

The Knights have nine games left in this truncated 56-game season. Fleury will likely start in four of them, perhaps more if Peter DeBoer decides to use him in additional games. If he wins three of the four, he’ll have 490 going into next season, the final year of his VGK contract. He’ll be 37 on Nov. 28. But with Fleury, age is truly just a number. He is having one of the best seasons of his career this year and barring an unforeseen drop-off in performance, he can work his way to closing the gap between himself and Roy in half.

What would make the chase problematic for Fleury would be if the Knights chose not to resign him after 2022 and he went to a team which didn’t perform as well. He’d be 38 by then and who knows where his skill set will be at that point.

Right now, he’s in a good place physically, mentally, and spiritually. The joy has returned and when Fleury is having fun, he is tough to beat.

So we’re going to have to see what develops in the coming months. But this much we know: He’s had a remarkable career to date. He’s a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Fame selection. He owns three Stanley Cup rings and maybe he gets a fourth this year. He has been the face of the Golden Knights franchise from the day the team took him in the NHL expansion draft in June 2017. I will always remember the roar inside the Fortress when it was announced the team selected him and that love for Fleury has never abated.

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

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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”

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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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