When you are mentioned with names like Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy and Ed Belfour you know you are doing something special. That is the case for Marc-Andre Fleury after a solid four-game winning streak with the Vegas Golden Knights. This latest winning streak started with a huge divisional win over the Arizona Coyotes, a win that allowed him to tie Curtis Joseph on the all-time wins list for goaltenders at 454. The Golden Knights then defeated the Anaheim Ducks to give Fleury sole possession of sixth place on the list.
The Golden Knights extended their streak to four with wins against the Philadelphia Flyers and St. Louis Blues. Now, Fleury sits just one win behind Henrik Lundqvist and 27 behind Belfour for fourth on the list. This is an amazing accomplishment for the veteran goaltender. Here’s how he got here.
Fleury spent his entire junior career with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). Although he was never able to help the Eagles make any big playoff push in his four seasons from 2000-04, he always had solid numbers. He had over a .900 save percentage (SV%) in three of his four seasons, the outlier being his first season. His strongest season was his final one in 2003-04 when he posted a .933 SV% and a 1.98 goals-against average (GAA).
Fleury was selected first overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins, only the third goalie in NHL history to be chosen first overall.
That same season in the QMJHL, Fleury won the Mike Bossy Trophy as the league’s top prospect and the Telus Cup as the top defensive player. The Screaming Eagles retired his No. 29 during his fourth season with the Penguins.
Fleury, known commonly as “Flower”, has also had success on the international stage. He represented Canada twice at the World Junior Championships, winning back-to-back silver medals, a great accomplishment at the World Junior tournament. However, he may be best remembered as the goaltender who tried to clear the puck but hit his defender, leading to the goal that ultimately cost Team Canada the gold medal. Despite that, Fleury played well during the tournament. He does have some gold on his resume, as a member of the Winter Olympic Team Canada that won gold on home soil in 2010.
The majority of Fleury’s pro career has been played with the team that drafted him. He made his NHL debut on Oct. 10, 2003 against the Los Angeles Kings, and although he put up a strong performance, the Penguins lost. The next time he was handed the crease, he managed his first NHL win over the Detroit Red Wings. The start to his NHL career was tough. However, that’s expected when relying on an 18-year-old rookie netminder. In a league where goalies typically take longer to develop, Fleury’s struggles could be the fault of the Penguins. Eventually he was sent back to the junior ranks after his World Juniors appearance to develop more. This was the right thing to do from the Penguins organization.
Fleury’s attempt to become a full-time NHLer was delayed again in the 2004-05 season, not because of performance but the NHL labor dispute which put the season on hold. He spent the season with the Penguins’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Besides a few short stints in the AHL, the 2005-06 season was when Fleury found his place in Pittsburgh. With a 3.25 GAA and an .898 SV%, you could say he struggled but he didn’t have much to work with. The Penguins finished last and allowed a league-worst 316 goals. However, Fleury did take the starting role from Sebastien Caron and Jocelyn Thibault and, from there, went on to cement his place among the NHL greats. He played 11 more seasons with the Penguins, attended two NHL All-Star Games, and won three Stanley Cups.
When the Golden Knights emerged, and the Penguins decided to carry on with goaltender Matt Murray, it seemed Fleury would become the new face of the Golden Knights organization. Joining an expansion team that no one had high expectations for seemed to spark him. He welcomed the challenge by waiving his no-movement clause and ran with the hype around the new team. “Flower” seemed to be in full bloom in Vegas. He put up remarkable numbers in the team’s first season, posting a 2.24 GAA and .927 SV% which led to a Western Conference championship and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. The Golden Knights lost in five games to the Washington Capitals.
Fleury once again posted strong numbers in season two with the Golden Knights, and is off to another strong start in the 31 games this season. He is on his way to making goaltender history and, by the end of the season, he should take sole possession of fifth place on the all-time wins list.
Even more impressive, Fleury has managed to accomplish this with fewer games played than any other goalie in the top 12, a list that also includes Joseph, Terry Sawchuck, Jacques Plante, Tony Esposito, and Grant Fuhr. All of whom Fleury has already surpassed.
Fleury is a fan favorite wherever he plays, from Cape Breton to Pittsburgh and now Vegas. I had the pleasure to watch him during his junior career with the Screaming Eagles and even shared some ice with him during some goaltending camps and he was always a professional but his play on the ice speaks for itself. It is not surprising to find him among the NHL’s greatest goaltenders in history.