It’s like trying to find the Loch Ness Monster, or Bigfoot. It’s the equivalent of trying to find where they buried Jimmy Hoffa.
How Marc-Andre Fleury has not even been a finalist for the Vezina Trophy remains a great mystery. The best he’s finished is fourth.
Even entering the latter part of his 30s, Fleury continues to be one of the best goalies in the league. In Year 4 with the Vegas Golden Knights, Fleury has seemingly turned back the clock to 2018.
The Golden Knights aren’t even a quarter of the way through the season, and there’s still plenty of hockey to be played.
Right now, there’s no debate: Fleury is the front-runner for the Vezina.
Allow me to put down the Kool-Aid.
Fleury, just named the league’s Second Star of the Week for going 3-1-0, is having one of the best starts to a season in his 16-year career; he’s 7-1-0 with a 1.38 goals-against average and .944 save percentage to go with two shutouts.
Keep in mind: That one loss came in a 1-0 defeat to Anaheim.
“It’s been a while. I don’t think it’s routine. Feeling it in the legs a bit right now,” Fleury said after his 30-save shutout Sunday against the Colorado Avalanche. “It was fun. Fun to get some wins here, and beating a good team today.”
This could all change quickly. Whenever Robin Lehner returns and the Golden Knights revert back to rotating their two elite goaltenders, Fleury’s candidacy could hurt if the split continues.
But the four consecutive starts Fleury has put together couldn’t have come at a better time for the Golden Knights. Fleury stopped all but six shots (100/106) he faced, pacing the Golden Knights to the top of the West Division.
Fleury was supposed to have Thursday off; it was Lehner’s turn in the rotation. But an upper-body injury sustained at morning skate pushed Fleury to make his second straight start; the first time Pete DeBoer went that route.
Fleury made 27 saves Tuesday in a 1-0 loss to Anaheim. There was also that Save of the Year candidate.
— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) February 12, 2021
DeBoer could’ve gone with Oscar Dansk in one of these back-to-back games this past weekend. I brought up the possibility to DeBoer on Friday but he felt Fleury was well-rested after playing every other couple of days.
Turns out, he was right.
Fleury made 24 saves on Saturday in a 3-1 win at San Jose, then a 30-save masterpiece Sunday against a well-rested (albeit rusty) Avalanche team.
And unless these corresponding moves of reassigning Patrick Brown and Logan Thompson back to Henderson are for something completely different, it sounds like Fleury will go again Tuesday against a likely angry Colorado team.
“We’ve got to get him some rest and get him ready for Tuesday,” DeBoer said.
Think of the pace Fleury is on compared to other top goalies. These numbers have skewed a tad because of the split with Lehner, but also take into account the three games Vegas had to postpone due to entering COVID-19 protocol.
Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy is once again asserting his dominance as one of the league’s best; the 2019 Vezina winner is off to a 9-2-1 start with a 1.92 GAA and .933 save percentage. Vasilevskiy has started in all but one of the defending champions’ games.
The Lightning sit atop the league in points percentage … with the Golden Knights.
Frederik Andersen is playing at an elite level with the Toronto Maple Leafs surging atop the North Division. The record is there (9-3-1) but the GAA (2.55) and save percentage (.909) prove the offense is carrying Toronto right now.
The offense should be carrying Fleury, as well, but Fleury has done his part when his teammates haven’t. Fleury has allowed one goal or fewer in five of his eight starts.
He’s allowed more than two goals in a start once. Forgive him for allowing three goals in the third against Anaheim with Tomas Nosek and COVID-19, and all.
Only Vasilevskiy (7.33), Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom (6.33) and Chicago’s Kevin Lankinen (5.73) have higher goals saved above average than Fleury (5.72).
The level of competition also does play a factor here. The Golden Knights’ opponents in the West Division are nowhere near the level Vasilevskiy is facing in the Central.
The Golden Knights have played the Blues and Avalanche once each, compared to Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose and Arizona a total of 10 times.
Despite more starts, Vasilevskiy’s best performances have too come against the bottom feeders (Detroit, Nashville, Chicago before they started playing better).
It’s not to say Fleury can’t come down to Earth at some point, but right now, he’s in a zone that can’t be quantified. If he gives up five Tuesday against Colorado, we can all take a torch and light this column on fire.
If the Golden Knights are contending for the Stanley Cup, it’ll be because of Fleury and Lehner. Whether DeBoer actually does sway toward one over the other come playoff time is another discussion.
If Fleury is even close to this pace, he’ll have one thing on his side: popularity.
Fleury is still beloved. People want to see Fleury win; they want to see him hoist the Stanley Cup one more time, likely as the starting goalie in Vegas.
There’s no doubt that had Fleury not been concussed in 2017-18, he would’ve been a finalist and could’ve won it. Missing those two months hurt him, even if he played at a top-three goalie level in the second half of the season.
If it gets to the point Fleury leads the Vegas Golden Knights to the playoffs and he’s the No. 1, voters will take notice.
It’s a much better team in front of Fleury than the 2018 Cup Final squad. DeBoer’s coaching style is more tailored to playing better in front of his goalie. That’s been evident for the most part.
Yet even at 36 years old, Fleury still finds a way to shock everyone. This might be another year he does it.
Danny Webster covers the Vegas Golden Knights for Vegas Hockey Now. Follow him on Twitter at @DannyWebster21.