Once the backbone to perennial Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins teams, Marc-Andre Fleury is now in his third season with the Vegas Golden Knights.
It’s been just under three years since the Penguins enticed the Golden Knights with a second-round draft pick to take Fleury in the expansion draft, allowing the Penguins to retain Matt Murray. It’s a deal that certainly made sense for the Penguins at the time and one that now has paid off in spades (pun intended) for the Golden Knights. Fleury has undoubtedly been the Golden Knights’ most valuable player since joining the team and that is because, as numbers suggest, he has arguably played the best hockey of his career during his time in Nevada.
Fleury’s Glory Days in Pittsburgh
To say Fleury has played his best hockey during the last two-plus seasons is not to suggest he was anything short of brilliant in his time with the Penguins. He helped guide the club to three Stanley Cups and three division titles, reaching the postseason in 11 of his 13 seasons with the team.
During his 11 seasons as the Penguins’ starter, the former first-overall selection posted strong metrics. He ranked third in wins with 371, trailing only Henrik Lundqvist and Roberto Luongo. His 2.55 goals-against average (GAA) and .913 save percentage (SV%) ranked 30th and 32nd, respectively among goalies to play at least 90 games. He ranked sixth in shutouts with 43. Meanwhile, the 18, 812 shots thrown his way were the fourth-most faced by any goaltender during that time.
Fleury’s strongest season statistically was the 2015-16 season where he posted 35 wins with a 2.29 GAA and a .921 SV%. Of course, who could forget his game-saving stop on Nicklas Lidstrom in the dying seconds of Game 7 of the 2009 playoffs to secure the Penguins’ first Stanley Cup since 1992?
Since Joining the Golden Knights
Fast forward to the 2016-17 season and it was becoming quite apparent that Murray had seemingly stolen the starting role away from Fleury. That was most evident after the team decided to ride Murray during the postseason of the Penguins’ back-to-back Stanley Cup victories in 2016 and 2017. With the Penguins electing to go with Murray as their future netminder, it seemed as though Fleury’s best years were likely in the rear-view mirror.
However, he quickly put those thoughts to rest. Fleury won his first three games with Vegas before going down with an injury that kept him sidelined until mid-December. He returned to the crease and kept up his scorching play, not losing his first game in regulation until his 11th start of the season.
Backed by Fleury, the Golden Knights captured the Pacific Division in their first season and reached the Stanley Cup Final, ultimately falling to the Washington Capitals in six games. He concluded the season with a 29-13-4 record while posting a .927 SV% and a 2.24 GAA, both career bests at the time.
This strong play has continued. Since donning a Golden Knights jersey, Fleury ranks seventh with a 5-on-5 SV% of .923, his 7.30 goals-saved above average ranks seventh, he ranks ninth in high-danger SV% with a .816 mark, and his .920 SV% and 2.39 GAA are tied for sixth and fourth respectively among goalies to play at least 80 games.
From here, it’s quite evident that Fleury has blossomed (another pun intended) with the Golden Knights and has put up numbers that far exceed his production in Pittsburgh.
Reason for Improvement
Fleury began his NHL career playing for a powerhouse team in the Penguins, so why did his numbers improve after departing from Pittsburgh and at age 32, no less?
Well, Fleury can likely tip his hat here to the team playing in front of him. With all due respect to the Penguins, whose championship teams featured the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and other superstar talents, defense was never those teams’ strength.
During Fleury’s time with the Penguins, the team ranked 16th in shots against per game, while Fleury faced the fourth-most shots (18, 812) by any goalie from 2005-07 to 2016-17.
Fast forward to Vegas and it’s been a much different story. Since joining Vegas, Fleury has faced just the 15th-most shots by a goalie and just the 13th-most high-danger chances since the 2017-18 season. The system implemented by head coach Gerard Gallant and the team’s strong defensive play has surely made Fleury’s job easier.
After it seemed as though Fleury’s glory days were beginning to fade as his tenure in Pittsburgh came to an end, he’s been rejuvenated as a member of the Golden Knights. The team has been a contender since they first hit the ice and Fleury has been a monumental piece of that. His three Stanley Cup rings are surely proof of an incredible tenure in Pittsburgh, but as the numbers suggest, he has certainly played his best hockey in Sin City.
(Advanced stats courtesy: Natural Stat Trick)
Craig is an intern at The Hockey News where he has written for both the website and the magazine. He is also a featured-blogger at http://www.hockeyforums.net/index.php/blog/46-its-a-canadian-game/. Craig has an Honours in Journalism from Wilfird Laurier University and is currently completing the Sports Journalism Program at Centennial College. Follow him on Twitter @Craig_Hagerman.