You’d be forgiven for thinking that Robin Lehner’s arrival in Vegas just before the world went to shit in February 2020 was the end of Marc-Andre Fleury as a going concern. After two-and-a-half seasons as the number-one goalie, the three-time Stanley Cup winner and most famous face of the Golden Knights made room in net for the younger Lehner, the reigning Masterson and Jennings Trophy winner, who in a trade with Chicago brought along a better save percentage, more impressive analytics, and a brighter future.
It’s never a painless transition from starter to backup, but it did feel inevitable here. Ahead of Vegas’s second-round series in the bubble against Vancouver, Fleury’s agent posted a picture of his client in fairly normal hockey attire, except for a sword inscribed with the name of Vegas’s coach that was sticking out of his back. After that, Fleury appeared in just two out of the Knights’ final 12 games. Turning the corner into 2021, it looked as though the demonstrably better Lehner would be the pillar in goal for the contending Golden Knights, while Fleury and his unmovable contract would be relegated to spot starts.
Or so we thought! Instead, 16 games into the season, some injury issues for the Swedish starter have given the 36-year-old Fleury plenty of opportunities to show that he’s still got it, and, unbelievably, the 17-year veteran is playing like a Vezina finalist. Through 11 games in net, Fleury boasts a league-leading save percentage of .942, a league-leading goals-against average of 1.55, and a league-leading goals saved above average mark of 10.3. And most crucially, the division-leading Golden Knights are 8-3 in those 11 games.
Monday night, Fleury led his medieval men to victory with his third shutout on the year, in a 3-0 stomping of the Avs where he picked up 34 saves. Coming off a weird little outdoors trek that took a whole day to complete, Fleury was ready for everything MacKinnon and Co. threw at him, showing the reflexes of a young man and the nerves of a seasoned hand as he preserved a lengthy tie and then flawlessly protected a solid lead.
Fleury also just seems like he’s having plenty of fun out there, which must be a relief after his agent made him come off like a grouchy and resentful sidekick during that playoff stretch. This kind of save especially, made near the end of the first on Nazem Kadri in a scoreless game, had a bit of extra flair on it, and featured the cocky body language of a goalie who’s truly “in the zone.”
“It’s as good as I’ve seen him play,” head coach Pete DeBoer—he of the backstabbing—said last night. “He’s been dialed in right since training camp for us and really has consistently been our best player.”
“He’s been unbelievable,” Jonathan Marchessault added. “He’s been a great leader for everybody and we definitely want to battle for him because he battles for us. It’s been a treat to see him do well.”
I’ve always thought of Fleury as kind of like the Eli Manning of hockey. Nobody’s going to put him in a category with the all-time greats, but he has managed to stick around for quite a long time and be a key leader during multiple championship seasons. But though Fleury has given his fans plenty of good memories through the nearly two decades he’s been in the NHL, they’d all be topped by the sheer ridiculous improbability of him maintaining this new peak all through the regular season and beyond.
Yeah, yeah, sorry, I’m getting way too ahead of myself. Any goalie, young or old, can put together a nifty little streak of a dozen performances, and the smart money always bets on regression. But! If any season was ever built for one last extended hot run, it’s this one. And if one thing’s ever been true of Marc-Andre Fleury, it’s that he loves heating up at the most dramatic moments. Maybe he’s got some more left in him.