The hardest thing for Marc-Andre Fleury to do between the pipes is watch his Vegas Golden Knights teammates on gameday, when most of the action is taking place at the other end.
Sunday the Arizona Coyotes took a whopping 16 shots on Vegas’ veteran netminder during a 1-0 win in Glendale, Ariz.
“So sometimes I thought the hardest thing was just to stay focused and be ready for those things,” Fleury said after registering his 62nd career shutout and improving to 3-0-0 with a 1.00 goals against average and .951 save percentage this season.
Those things, he referred to, were two big saves that may have proved to be turning points for Vegas, which is now 5-1-0 and just one of two teams in the league with five wins.
“They were game-changers,” said Jonathan Marchessault, who had the lead assist on William Karlsson’s game-winning goal with 43 seconds left in the game.
Just before the horn at the end of the second period, Fleury denied Jakob Chychrun’s shot through traffic from the top of the right circle.
But it was the save early in the third period that was Fleury’s best, and preserved the shutout and kept momentum fueling into the Golden Knights.
Arizona’s Phil Kessel was able to snatch the puck free from William Carrier in Vegas’ zone, skate through and around Golden Knights defenseman Zach Whitecloud in the neutral zone and bust free for a breakaway chance on his former Penguins teammate.
After shuffling backhand-forehand five times to his forehand, Kessel was stuffed by Fleury.
“I saw it was Phil Kessel coming on the breakaway, and I’ve faced him a lot in practice (in Pittsburgh),” Fleury said. “Sometimes I overthink stuff and what he likes to do, but I was really happy to make that save.”
From there, Fleury faced just four more shots over the final 16:55. And adding to the deflation of the Coyotes’ hopes after Fleury’s save on Kessel was a clanker moments later.
Johan Larsson rang one off the far post, the puck squirted back toward Fleury, whose left pad was off the ice and allowed the puck to get underneath so he could cover it and stop play.
“The breakaway save on Phil Kessel … that’s a huge momentum save for us at the right time, to give us a chance to get back to work and keep the pressure on them,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said. “I thought Flower gave us exactly the kind of game we needed tonight.”
With his shutout, Fleury passed Walter Broda for sole possession of 16th all time.
“We had our moments,” Arizona coach Rick Tocchet said. “You’re looking for that big moment.”
For the Golden Knights, once again, it was their face of the franchise since they entered the National Hockey League.
W.G. Ramirez is the newest columnist and reporter for Vegas Hockey Now. He is the Golden Knights beat writer for The Associated Press and remains a contributor to The Hockey News. Catch him on Twitter @WillieGRamirez