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Marc-Andre Fleury would like to finish career in Vegas

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The face of the Vegas Golden Knights franchise would like to spend the rest of his career with the team.

It’s tough to blame the 33-year-old, who became Vegas’ showpiece the moment he was taken by the Golden Knights in the expansion draft last year.

Vegas flaunted the former No. 1 pick and he reciprocated, putting up the best statistical season of his career with a .927 save percentage and a 2.24 goals-against average, despite being limited to 46 games because of injury.

“It’s weird, a year ago I was told I was getting too old to play,” Fleury told members of the media on Friday, just hours after the Golden Knights dropped Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final and watched Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals hoist Lord Stanley’s mug. “I still love it. I still have a lot of fun. Certainly, Vegas has given me this opportunity to do what I love, and I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else, and hopefully I can finish my career here.”

Fleury was the talk of the NHL through the first three rounds of the playoffs.

He flirted with history after posting a .947 save percentage as the Golden Knights needed just 15 games to reach the Cup Final, only to see a dip in his play.

Fleury went from looking unbeatable to struggling to find his form in quick succession, never finding the same magic in the Cup Final.

In the five games Washington needed to win the Cup, Fleury’s save percentage never touched 90 percent, dipping sharply to a .853 average.

He ran out of steam, along with the rest of his team.

“It was a crazy year,” Fleury said. “From our team’s success to the support from the fans, the best place to play in the league. There were so many questions going into the year about putting a hockey team in Vegas. I think the expectation was very much exceeded. It was a lot of fun.”

RELATED: After improbable debut, where do Golden Knights go in year two?

Fleury will be eligible to sign a contract extension on July 1. He is slated to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season.

Given how difficult it can be to find good goaltending in the NHL, one would have to imagine that the Golden Knights would like to lock Fleury up. He’s not getting any younger, but he certainly looks revitalized with the reins to Vegas’ crease firmly in his grip.

He displayed his skill on the ice and was a model of calmness in the dressing room during Vegas’ playoff run. A good goalie and a man that can lead the charge?

Seems like a no-brainer.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Fleury-Ovechkin get heated, Golden Knights put on show before Game 5

Not wanting the season to end is already a good reason to hope that the 2018 Stanley Cup Final extends beyond Game 5, at least if you’re not a Washington Capitals fan.

Fans of the sport as a whole received a few other reasons to hope that this series goes as long as possible thanks to entertaining events before the real action even began. (You can watch that real action via this livestream link.)

The juiciest bit was the part that (probably) wasn’t choreographed. You know, assuming that Marc-Andre Fleury and Alex Ovechkin aren’t keeping kayfabe as part of a pro wrestling-style fake feud.

Before Game 2, Fleury and Ovechkin were quite playful:

With the Capitals a win away from their first Stanley Cup and Vegas in a must-win situation, it’s unclear if their exchange was “playful” or at least a little bit hateful. Judge for yourself, but it sure looks like Fleury wasn’t happy with Ovechkin’s antics:

Well, isn’t that interesting?

Speaking of dramas that felt downright episodic, the Golden Knights provided quite the rendition of their over-the-top, “Game of Thrones” meets Medieval Times presentation. Watch as the Capitals Crusader (just made that one up) and the Golden Knight battle, with the Caps’ soldier briefly getting the upper hand.

And, well, the rest is worth watching if you enjoy some corniness. Enjoy that specific clip in the video above this post’s headline.

***

Circling back to the earlier point: if you don’t have a horse in the race, wouldn’t you want to see what the Golden Knights might have up their sleeves if the series went to a Game 7 for all of the marbles? Would they be able to lure Brittney Spears in to do the show? Maybe there could be another sequel for “The Hangover” to lead in? The possibilities are endless and endlessly fun.

Plus we’d get more Fleury vs. Ovechkin. And more hockey.

Maybe this Vegas team is inspiring a bit of greediness here …

Stanley Cup Final schedule
Game 1 Monday, May 28 – Golden Knights 6, Capitals 4
Game 2 Wednesday, May 30 – Capitals 3, Golden Knights 2
Game 3 Saturday, June 2 – Capitals 3, Golden Knights 1 
Game 4 Monday, June 4 – Capitals 6, Golden Knights 2 (Washington leads series 3-1)
Game 5 Thursday, June 7 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 6* Sunday, June 10 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 7* Wednesday, June 13 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)

* = If necessary

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Guide

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

‘Flower’ wilts: Golden Knights must play better for Fleury

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Gerard Gallant didn’t consider pulling Marc-Andre Fleury as another game and perhaps the Vegas Golden Knights’ Stanley Cup hopes slipped away.

The struggles and another pile of Washington Capitals goals are on the entire team. Gallant couldn’t pull all his players at once.

”There was nothing that he could have done,” Gallant said.

As the face of the franchise and its backbone on the ice, Fleury did just about everything to lead the expansion Golden Knights to the Cup Final with a .947 save percentage that made him the playoff MVP front-runner. In four games against Washington, Fleury has allowed 16 goals on 103 shots, a pedestrian .845 save percentage that speaks as much to Vegas crashing back down to earth as a team.

There is plenty of blame to pass around for the Golden Knights as they face a 3-1 series deficit that no team since the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs has overcome in the final. Vegas needs Fleury to be better and his teammates to improve in front of him in Game 5 on Thursday night or they will watch their opponent celebrate a championship their home ice.

”When you’re a goalie you don’t want to get scored on,” Fleury said. ”There was a lot of that (in Game 4). It’s never a good feeling. It’s a team game. Everybody’s trying hard out there, trying to help me out. We’ll find a way to make it work.”

It’s not working right now. The Capitals’ strategy of making lateral passes to get Fleury moving side-to-side is proving effective at even strength and on a power play that’s scoring at a 26.7 percent clip.

Forward Alex Tuch said staying out of the penalty box is one necessary improvement, but it goes beyond that. Vegas has ridden Fleury to this point and now has to cut down on the high-danger scoring chances he’s facing and too often allowing to turn into goals.

”Play better defensively,” Gallant said Tuesday. ”There’s too many guys staring at the puck carrier, and we’re leaving the back side open too much. Make sure we’re paying attention to the guys behind the puck and away from the puck. Marc will make the save on the guy shooting the puck. We’ve just got to make sure we’re taking away the passes.”

Fleury didn’t make the save on Devante Smith-Pelly on the doorstep in Game 4 as the Golden Knights fell behind 3-0 despite one of their best periods of the series that featured James Neal‘s inexplicable shot off the post facing a wide-open net. As Gallant pointed out, Fleury had little chance on others as Washington put up six goals in a blowout .

Golden Knights players can’t help but feel like they’re letting ”Flower” down.

”We have the best goalie in the league and he’s been carrying (us) the whole year along and we feel like the goals … there’s not much you can do on those,” center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said. ”This is the frustrating part.”

Fleury acknowledged falling behind 3-1 was demoralizing. But the 33-year-old refuses to say fatigue has been a factor for him or his teammates.

”I think everybody’s fine,” Fleury said. ”It’s the same for their team, also. They’ve been through the same season, same playoffs. Being tired is no excuse.”

The Golden Knights have lost three games in a row as they near the end of an otherwise-charmed inaugural season. Perhaps Fleury has one more stand-on-his head, stop-everything game left in him in front of the home fans in Las Vegas, but the Golden Knights will need more than a singular effort from their goalie.

”Not where we want to be, that’s for sure,” Fleury said. ”Nobody’s quitting. We’re going home. We’ve had some success there. We just have to focus on period at a time, you know? Don’t think too far ahead. Just play our game, see where that takes us.”

More Stanley Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/StanleyCupFinals

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

Golden Knights no longer being saved by Marc-Andre Fleury

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Goaltending is hockey’s great equalizer, and it can also totally screw with our interpretation of what is happening on the ice in any given game, series, or season.

It can make us think mediocre teams are better than they actually are.

It can make us think great teams are worse than they actually are. It can make us think we are seeing something that we are not actually seeing.

Sometimes your great defensive team that has bought into sacrificing and selling out to play a stifling brand of hockey is just a bad hockey team that gets stuck in its own zone all night and has a great goalie. Sometimes your team of underachievers that never have what it takes to win when it counts and needs some sort of a culture change is just a team that is getting sub-par goaltending. 

This, of course, is not always the case. Sometimes there really are great defensive teams independent of their goalie. Sometimes teams do need to make changes beyond the goalie to break through the wall and win. But goaltending messes with us a lot.

This brings us to the story of Marc-Andre Fleury and the Vegas Golden Knights.

Through the first three rounds of the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs Fleury had seemingly built a brick wall around his net and was in the process of authoring one of the great postseason goaltending performances in NHL history. He was not only the leader in the Conn Smythe Trophy race, but he seemed to have a pretty strong case to pull a Jean-Sebastian Giguere and potentially win the award even if his team lost. He was playing the best hockey of his life and was one of the driving forces behind one of the most stunning stories in professional sports history.

All of it is still true. All of those wins in the first three rounds still happened. He still made all of those saves. It all counts. No matter what happens the rest of the way in this series it is going to be a postseason run for the ages.

Eventually, though, there was going to come a point where he was no longer going to stop 95 percent of the shots he faced because no goalie is ever going to maintain that level of play all the time. The regression monster eventually comes for every hot streak and it can be ruthless depending on the timing. The only question for Fleury was whether or not it was going to come in the Stanley Cup Final or if it was going to come next season.

Through the first four games against the Washington Capitals it has become strikingly obvious that it has come now. The numbers in this series for Fleury are not kind. Through the first four games Fleury has already allowed 16 goals on 103 shots for a save percentage of only .845, a dramatic fall from the .946 mark he had in the first three rounds.

There are a couple of ways to look at this.

On one hand, you could look at it as NHL seasons being full of hot streaks and cold streaks and Fleury, after playing a white-hot level for the first 15 games of the playoffs, was due to hit a valley and has simply not played as well.

Or you could look at it as the team around him has played significantly worse against a great team and has left him out on an island on far too many occasions, failing to give him anywhere near enough help.

The latter point seems to be the popular approach here. Following Vegas’ Game 4 loss in Washington, a night where Fleury gave up six goals in what the Golden Knights thought was a pretty strong showing on their part, coach Gerard Gallant was asked if he ever gave any consideration to lifting Fleury.

“No. Never,” said Gallant. “I think at least five of the six goals they had wide open nets, nothing he could do.”

On Tuesday he reenforced his stance that the players around his goalie need to be better

“Play better defensively,” said Gallant. “There’s too many guys staring at the puck carrier, and we’re leaving the back side open too much. Make sure we’re paying attention to the guys behind the puck and away from the puck. Marc will make the save on the guy shooting the puck. We’ve just got to make sure we’re taking away the passes.”

This is where things get tricky with Fleury and the Golden Knights.

Gallant is correct that his team needs to be better in a lot of ways. There have been goals in this series where Fleury did not have much of a chance. The team around its goalie does need to play better, and not just in the defensive zone, but also in the offensive zone where turnovers have been plentiful and sustained pressure has been insufficient.

But what if — and this might be a controversial take given the way this story is unfolding — the Golden Knights are playing largely the same way defensively that they did through the first three rounds and the only difference is Fleury is no longer able to consistently bail them out with mind-bending saves?

Below is a series-by-series breakdown of what Fleury has faced this postseason, including total shots on goal and “high-danger chances,” and how many of those shots he has stopped.

(These are all situations numbers — even strength, power play, penalty kill — and the high-danger data is via Natural Stat Trick.)

Notice the column on the far right? Vegas is actually giving up fewer high-danger chances in the Final than it did in the previous two rounds against the San Jose Sharks and Winnipeg Jets. Three of their 10 best individual games this postseason in terms of suppressing those sorts of chances have come in this series.

If there is a point to be made here it is this: Vegas has not played that great defensively this postseason.

How many times throughout the first three rounds (well, maybe only the past two rounds because the Los Angeles Kings were just totally incompetent and embarrassing offensively) did we talk about how Fleury made some sort of unconscious save that defied all reason and logic? How many times did the Jets talk about Fleury stealing games against them? Just because Fleury was making those saves does not mean those chances against were not happening — because they were. Overall this postseason Vegas has given up an average of 11.91 high-danger chances (all situations) per game. That is the third-worst mark of all the teams in these playoffs. That is bad.

For three rounds, Fleury stopped an obscene number of those chances.

Now he is not.

This does not necessarily mean that it is Fleury’s fault. It is more a commentary on just how great he was through the first three rounds that the Golden Knights were able to overcome it.

So why has it changed in this series?

You could look at it as an inevitability that he was due for some sort of a regression and that if you give NHL shooters enough chances they are eventually going to make you pay.

It also might have something to do with the team he and the Golden Knights are playing. As I pointed out before the start of the series the Capitals are quite familiar with Fleury given his time with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and in their two previous postseason matchups they had no issues scoring goals against him. They know him. They know the way he plays. The Capitals not only have some of the best high-end talent that the Fleury and the Golden Knights have faced this season, but they are capable of playing a brand of hockey that can take advantage of Fleury’s style of play.

Gallant pointed out how many “empty net” goals the Capitals have been able to score and his team’s need to take away passing lanes because they are giving up a lot of backdoor play type goals. Fleury is an aggressive goalie. He challenges shooters and relies significantly on his athleticism to recover and make saves. That style of play and athleticism can result in highlight reel saves that blow your mind. It can also leave him vulnerable to the type of goals the Capitals have been scoring in bunches in this series where it looks like he has no chance.

In the end there can be more than one true development here.

Yes, the Golden Knights do need to be better defensively in front of Fleury because they have not always been great defensively in this series or in these playoffs.

Yes, it is also true that Fleury is not playing quite as great as he did earlier in the playoffs.

This, again, does not mean he is to blame for the deficit they are facing. It just means he played at a ridiculous level for 15 games that probably helped push his team further in the playoffs than it otherwise would have gone with a different goaltending performance.

If they are going to comeback in this series they are probably going to have to hope he gets back to that level for three more games.

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Guide
• Stanley Cup Final schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Should Golden Knights have pulled Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 4?

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Golden Knights netminder Marc-Andre Fleury came into the Stanley Cup Final with a .947 save percentage. Pretty good, right? Well, let’s just say that number has gone down thanks to the Washington Capitals, who have scored at least three goals on him in each game.

Fleury’s save percentage has now dropped to .929. That’s a great number, but not when you were 18 points higher just four games ago.

Game 4 was particularly rough for Vegas, as they allowed six goals in their 6-2 loss in Washington. Many wondered whether or not head Gerard Gallant should have pulled Fleury in the first intermission when the team was down 3-0 or even in the second intermission when they were trailing by four. In the end, Gallant decided to stick with his starting goalie.

When asked if he ever considered it, Gallant had this to say, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

“No. I think at least five of the six goals were wide-open nets. There was nothing he could have done.”

It’s a fair point. Of the six goals the Caps scored on Fleury, how many could he have stopped? There’s no way he’s coming up with the Oshie power-play goal (1-0), Tom Wilson was left totally alone in the slot (2-0), Devante Smith-Pelly made a great play to get the puck from his skate to his stick (3-0), no goalie is coming up with the John Carlson rocket one-timer (4-0), Kempny had all the space in the world on his one-timer (5-2) and Brett Connolly cashed in on a 5-on-3 power play (6-2). There’s not much Fleury could have done on any of those goals.

Another reason people may have wanted to see Fleury come out of the game was so that he could get additional rest ahead of a do-or-die Game 5. Sure, extra rest couldn’t hurt, but there’s still two full off days between the last game and the one coming up (they don’t play again until Thursday). If Game 5 was on Wednesday night, maybe that changes things. The fact that there’s an extra day is probably one of the reasons why he stayed in there.

Upon further review, there’s nothing wrong with the way the Golden Knights handled their goaltending situation in Game 4. Fleury played the whole game and there’s nothing wrong with that.

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Guide

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.