Marc-Andre Fleury

Net gains: NHL’s load management is top goalies playing less

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Marc-Andre Fleury plays when he’s told.

How much he plays has changed.

A decade ago, Fleury started 61 out of 82 games before backstopping Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup. He started 58 and 34 times on the Penguins’ 2016 and 2017 Cup runs splitting time with Matt Murray, then made 46 starts for Vegas and led the expansion Golden Knights to the final.

“As a player, I love being in there. I love playing the game,” Fleury said. “It’s tough to find like the perfect amount of games. Nowadays, I feel like we’re hearing more than ever how we’re going to manage two goalies and stuff.”

Consider it hockey’s version of “load management” that’s gained popularity in basketball. Don’t expect NHL teams to handpick games throughout the season to rest star players – except top goaltenders who are getting more nights off while their backups share the net with an eye toward playoff success.

Each of the past five Cup-winning goalies started fewer than 60 games in the regular season, along with three of the past five runners up. The days of Martin Brodeur starting 78 games are gone – only three goalies have 70-plus starts over the past five seasons – and teams think year-round about how to best prepare to play deep into June.

“The trend is definitely going the way that you split the net more,” said Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask, who carried the Bruins to Game 7 of the final last year after starting 46 times in the regular season. “It’s a tough thing because if your starter makes $8-9 million, you want him to play. But then you want to win the Cup, so you’ve got to think of it like, well, if this guy plays 70 games, is he going to play 25 in the playoffs at the same level? Versus OK we’re playing him 45, 50 really good games and then we got the other guy and the A guy’s going to play 25 really good (playoff games).”

Rask and Jaroslav Halak, Washington’s Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer in 2018 and Pittsburgh’s Murray and Fleury the previous two years are prime examples. Jordan Binnington didn’t make his first NHL start until January, but 32 games of work made him fresh to help the St. Louis Blues win the Cup last season.

It’s a delicate balance of having enough salary cap space to employ two capable goalies with playing time, plotting out the schedule for maximum rest benefits and collecting enough points to make the playoffs.

“It’s a collaborative discussion that all teams have,” Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. “What we’re doing is trying to win hockey games during the regular season, trying to keep both of our goalies sharp and trying to have all our players at the top of their game come playoffs.”

The New York Islanders have alternated Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov for their first 24 games and allow the fourth-fewest goals in the league. Anaheim’s coaching staff pencils in both John Gibson or Ryan Miller for all 82 games and revisits incrementally to adjust for injuries and workloads.

“It has very little to do with games,” Ducks coach Dallas Eakins said. “It has more to do with how much work. We had a game earlier this year where we were overwhelmed in the game against Vegas. I think they put up 50 shots, and we were in our zone the whole time. That went down as one game for John, but he really played two, so that’s kind of how we look at it.”

Miller previously preferred to skip a game with a couple days off on each end for a mental break. He sees so many teams splitting back-to-backs and understands it but also thinks battling some old-school fatigue can be good for a goaltender.

“I don’t think there’s a strict recipe,” said Miller, whose career high was 74 starts in 2007-08 with Buffalo. “I think some adversity is good to keep your mentality in the right place. It’s not going to be a cake walk and then playoffs hit and it’s like (you’re) dialed in. You’ve got to go through some stuff and work through it and battle through the harder situations so that’s just your mindset every night.”

NHL goalies believe modern games are more difficult with higher shot totals than past decades. Teams are averaging 30 shots a game in 2019-20, while the schedule has more back-to-backs.

“Nowadays there’s a lot more work for a goalie: a lot less hooking and holding up for the D-men, so there’s a lot more chances or a lot more in-zone time that you’re actually working,” said Philadelphia’s Brian Elliott, who’s part of a successful tandem with Carter Hart. “Even if you’re maybe not getting shots, you’re looking through screens, you’re doing a lot of work.”

Vegas coach Gerard Gallant appreciates Fleury wants to play all 82 games, and he’s not alone in wanting to grab the net and not let go.

“I’ve felt a lot better every year I played a lot more games,” said Holtby, who led the league with 73 games played in 2014-15. “It’s a little more of a feel game instead of an analytics game just because of the speed of it. … It’s one of those things everyone’s probably different. It probably has a lot to do with how you practice and everything.”

Some goalies are going to play more than others; Florida’s $10 million man, Sergei Bobrovsky, or Montreal’s Carey Price, the highest-paid goalie in the league, could start 60 or more just because his team needs an elite level of play.

“We’d love to have (Price) in every game, but it’s not realistic,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said. “We give him some days off of practices because that’s not quite as important as him in games.”

The most important thing, of course, is the playoffs. It’s tough for starters who want to play all the time and it takes an adjustment, but the proof is in the names on the Stanley Cup that splitting the net works.

“Everybody wants to play,” Rask said. “The older you get, I think it becomes a little easier to realize that it’s not about me. I’m resting for the team.”

And resting with the hope that shouldering less of a load now makes a goalie more likely to raise a trophy over his shoulders at the end of the season.

Bruins’ Rask gives Fleury competition for save of the week/year

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When Marc-Andre Fleury flashed the glove for a ridiculous save, PHT’s Adam Gretz was right in wondering if calling it a save of the year candidate was an understatement. And then Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask came along and gave Fleury competition for save of the week.

Buffalo Sabres forward Evan Rodrigues had so much net to aim for, but also needed to get his shot off quickly. As much as the Bruins swarmed the situation — making for an even better visual — Rask ended up having to save the day, and that he did.

This would have been an amazing glove save, but Rask managing the feat with his blocker hand is just … wow. Watch in awe in the video above.

It sounds like even Rask was impressed.

Again, wow. Let’s take a paragraph break to just mutter wow a few times.

Now, let’s compare and contrast: was it more or less amazing than Fleury’s save? Don’t say it was a tie, cheaters.

Now, what do I think is the better save? Uh …

(Tries to throw a smoke bomb and run away, but Rask and Fleury keep batting it around between each other.)

The save ended up being important, as the Bruins narrowly beat the Sabres 3-2 on Thursday.

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.

The Buzzer: Benn keeps Stars rolling; Pastrnak, McDavid keep dominating

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Three Stars

1. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars. It was only a matter of time until Benn started to produce. He is too good, too talented, and has too much of a track record to keep being as invisible as he had been on the scoresheet at the start of the season. Now the points are starting to show up in bunches. He scored two goals and added an assist on Tuesday to help lead the Stars to a huge 6-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Benn now has three goals and six total points over the past three games. The Stars, meanwhile, are now 11-1-1 after starting the year 1-7-1.

2. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins. Nobody can stop this guy right now. He added two more goals in the Bruins’ 5-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, giving him a league-leading 19 goals in only 21 games this season. He sits three goals ahead of Leon Draisaitl for the top spot in the league even though Draisaitl has played in two additional games. Even without Patrice Bergeron in the lineup that top line continues to dominate. The duo of Pastrnak and Brad Marchand is one of the best in the league

3. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers. Speaking of dominating, McDavid extended his current point streak to eight games with a goal and two assists in the Oilers’ big win to snap the San Jose Sharks’ five-game winning streak. He now has 20 points during that streak as he and Leon Draisaitl continue to carry the team. Read more about their win here.

Other notable performances from Tuesday

  • The New York Islanders’ point streak is now at 15 games (14-0-1) record thanks to their come-from-behind win in Pittsburgh against the Penguins. The line of Brock Nelson, Anthony Beauvillier, and Derick Brassard drove this one. Read all about it here.
  • Zach Parise scored two goals for the Minnesota Wild as they cruised to an easy win over the fading Buffalo Sabres.
  • Anthony Duclair continued his strong season for Ottawa with a pair of goals (up to nine on the season) in its 4-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings.
  • Andrei Svechnikov and Sebastian Aho both scored their 10th goals of the season in Carolina’s 4-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks.
  • Colorado’s depth forwards came through in a 4-3 win over the Calgary Flames, with Andre Burakovsky leading the way thanks to his two-goal performance.
  • Connor Hellebuyck stood tall for the Winnipeg Jets once again, turning aside 38 shots in a 2-1 win over the Nashville Predators.
  • Aleksander Barkov, Brett Connolly, and Evgenii Dadonov all had two points in the Florida Panthers’ 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

Highlights of the Night

Maybe the highlight of the season to this point, but Marc-Andre Fleury makes an absolutely incredible save to secure the win for the Vegas Golden Knights. Read all about it here.

It came in a losing effort, but Morgan Frost scored his first NHL goal for the Philadelphia Flyers and it was a beauty.

Speaking of beautiful goals, take another look at Oskar Sundqvist‘s goal for the St. Louis Blues in their 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, all set up by an incredible pass from Robert Thomas. Read all about that game here.

Bloopers of the Night

This goes in the books as a goal for Detroit Red Wings forward Robby Fabbri, continuing his strong start with his new team. He ended up getting a big assist from Senators forward Logan Brown who accidentally kicked it in his own net. Oops. Fortunately for him the Senators ended up getting the win.

Columbus’ 5-2 win over Montreal on Tuesday was the first time this season they have won a game by more than a single goal. Pierre-Luc Dubois had another huge night to help lead the way, and they also had a little bit of luck on their side.

Factoids

  • Among players to debut with the Boston Bruins only Barry Pederson required fewer games than David Pastrnak to reach the 150-goal mark. Pederson did it in 316 games while Pastrnak reached it in 346 games. [NHL PR]
  • Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim scored his 13th career goal on Tuesday. He has scored five of those goals against Sergei Bobrovsky. [Sam Carchidi]
  • Kirby Dach has a five-game point streak for the Chicago Blackhawks, tied with Eddie Olczyk for the third-longest streak by an 18-year-old in franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • Not only did he make the save of the night, Fleury became the seventh goalie ever to record 450 career wins. [NHL PR]
  • Miro Heiskanen recorded his third straight multi-point game for the Stars on Tuesday. The only defensemen in franchise history with a longer streak was Brad Maxwell with four straight games back when the team was still based in Minnesota. [NHL PR]
  • Jean-Gabriel Pageau leads the NHL in goals since the start of November and needs just four more goals this month to tie the Ottawa Senators franchise record for most goals in the month of November. [NHL PR]
  • Emil Bemstrom now has a five-game point streak for the Blue Jackets, tying a franchise record set by Dubois during the 2017-18 season. [NHL PR]

Scores

Boston Bruins 5, New Jersey Devils 1
Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Montreal Canadiens 2
Florida Panthers 5, Philadelphia Flyers 2
Minnesota Wild 4, Buffalo Sabres 1
New York Islanders 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 3 (OT)
Ottawa Senators 4, Detroit Red Wings 3
St. Louis Blues 3, Tampa Bay Lightning 1
Winnipeg Jets 2, Nashville Predators 1
Carolina Hurricanes 4, Chicago Blackhawks 2
Dallas Stars 6, Vancouver Canucks 1
Colorado Avalanche 3, Calgary Flames 2
Vegas Golden Knights 4, Toronto Maple Leafs 2
Edmonton Oilers 5, San Jose Sharks 2

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.

Fleury’s save of the year submission extends Maple Leafs’ misery

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If we are being honest, simply calling this a save of the year candidate might be underselling it.

This might actually already be the save of the year because it is really difficult to imagine what it would take to top this.

With the Vegas Golden Knights hanging on to a one-goal lead against the Toronto Maple Leafs late in the third period, Marc-Andre Fleury did this to Nic Petan, who thought he was going to tie the game with the entire net staring him right in the face.

I mean … come on.

That is just completely ridiculous.

After the initial shot from Ilya Mikheyev hit the cross-bar behind Fleury, it bounced to a wide open Petan who attempted to backhand the shot into the yawning net and, well, you saw the replay.

What the hell are you supposed to do about that as a shooter? Nothing. There is nothing you can do. You did everything right, you did exactly what you needed to do, and the universe still punched you in the face.

The Golden Knights added an empty-net goal to go on to a 4-2 win, extending the Maple Leafs’ current losing streak to six games. They have won just two games in regulation in their past 16 (and only five games total during that stretch) and are 9-10-4 on the season. That record is currently one of the worst in the NHL for a team that was supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender.

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.

The Buzzer: Blackhawks, Golden Knights cruise; Sundqvist fined

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Three Stars

1. Kirby Dach, Blackhawks

It was quite the night for the rookie forward during Chicago’s 4-1 win over the Sabres. Dach became the third 18-year-old in franchise history to record a multi-goal game, joining Eddie Olczyk and Patrick Kane. Per the NHL, he’s also the fourth different 18-year-old in franchise history to record a point streak of four-plus games. Also, Kane scored his 11th of the year to extend his points streak to nine games.

2. Marc-Andre Fleury, Golden Knights

Vegas snapped its five-game losing streak in a big way Sunday night. Fleury posted 34 saves and his teammates provided six goals during a shutout of the Flames. It was Fleury’s second shutout of the season and 58th of his career.

3. William Karlsson, Golden Knights

Karlsson had a hand in a four-goal third period for Vegas scoring his second of the game and assisting on Max Pacioretty‘s eighth of the season. The Swedish forward has been on fire of late and now has four goals and seven points in his last three games. According to the NHL, his 75 goals with Vegas is now tied for the eighth-most by a player through a modern-era franchise’s first 200 all-time regular-season games.

Highlights of the Night

• Where there’s an annoyed goaltender, you can probably assume Matthew Tkachuk is in the area. Just ask Fleury:

• There’s never a bad time to have a dog on the ice:

Sundqvist fined

Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist was fined $7,392.47, the maximum allowable under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, for charging Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson Saturday night.

Factoids of the Night

Brent Seabrook skated in his 1,100th NHL game on Sunday. He’s second in games played for the Blackhawks behind Stan Mikita (1,394).

Goalies optional in Sudbury

Wild game in the OHL Sunday night with the Hamilton Bulldogs topping the Sudbury Wolves in overtime 11-10. Yes, you read that right.

Scores
Golden Knights 6, Flames 0
Blackhawks 4, Sabres 1

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.