There is a quote on the back of goalkeeper Marc-Andre Fleury’s mask this season: Keep your eyes on it. You play like you practice. Amuz-tua.
Translated from the French: Keep an eye on him. You practice when you play. Have fun!
The quote is signed by Papa, as Fleury calls his father André.
He’s been telling me that since I was a kid, Fleury said. Even as an adult, he would say that to me before a game.
This season, the Vegas Golden Knights goalie seems to be having fun again – and thriving. He went 17-7-0 with a career best .927 fielding percentage, a career best 2.06 goals-against average and four shutouts. With 483 wins in his career, he is just one win away from finishing fourth along with Eddie Belfour. Despite all the success in his career, including three Stanley Cups with the Penguins, the team that placed him first in 2003, Fleury was never one of three finalists for the Vezina Cup. The 36-year-old is looking to change that this summer.
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But all this came after perhaps the most tumultuous season of Fleury’s career. After becoming the face of the Golden Knights for the first two and a half years, Fleury lost his starting spot to Robin Lehner in the playoffs after Vegas unexpectedly traded the former Chicago goalie at the deadline. (The decision to use Lehner in the playoffs led to a tweet from Fleury’s agent in which Vegas coach Peter DeBoer’s name was photoshopped onto Fleury’s back.) The Golden Knights gave Lehner a five-year extension this season, sparking rumors of a Fleury trade. His former general manager in Pittsburgh, Jim Rutherford, even tried to get him back.
All of this is nothing compared to what was going on personally with Fleury, who was mourning the death of his father, Andre, who passed away from lung cancer in November 2019 at the age of 63.
It’s not easy to talk about grief, and for most of last season, Fleury didn’t.
Hockey is always an escape from reality, Fleury said. Just get out on the ice and have fun. Our days are always full; I’m at the rink, then I come home and have three kids. I always have something in mind.
Fleury took a break. But sometimes you dwell on it and it is still unreal that he is no longer there, he said. And I won’t see him this summer when I go home. It’s very difficult.
Fleury grew up in Sorel-Tracy, a small town in Quebec about an hour northeast of Montreal. André Fleury was a carpenter who built his family home like many others in the city. He also instilled a love of hockey in his son.
He is your father, the man you have always admired, Marc-André said. He was always a tough guy, never went to the hospital, worked construction all his life.
Andre Fleury smoked too. He quit years ago, Marc-Andre said. But I think the damage is already done.
A year before his death, Andre Fleury was diagnosed with lung cancer.
He started treatment and I had to spend the summer with him, we went to the doctor and everything, Marc-Andre said. But the cancer was so advanced. We were just looking for different ways to slow it down. It was hard to see him weak, and in that position.
Fleury returned to Las Vegas for last season, but things got worse for his father.
It’s obviously getting on your nerves, isn’t it? I’ve always thought of him, Fleury said. Sometimes I wish I could be there for him, because you’re always on the move. He was in Quebec and my sister was with him.
In October 2019, Fleury sent his father to a clinic in Mexico. He was there a little bit to try to help him, but it didn’t work out so well, Fleury said. So he went home. A few weeks later, when I heard the news, he was in the hospital.
The Golden Knights played Nashville in late November, and Fleury immediately flew to Quebec City.
He was able to break away from his father before he died on the 27th. November. Fleury stayed at his sister’s house for a week to cry out to his family, then returned to the squad. While Fleury says his management and teammates were extremely supportive, he shared his emotions.
They’re right there with the boys, and nobody said anything about it, Fleury said. We were just playing hockey, and I thought that was a good way to go.
Fleury shined in his first game back at 10. December. He stopped 28 of 29 shots in the win over the Blackhawks. But over the next two months, he wasn’t quite himself, with an .885 save percentage in 20 appearances.
I loved going to the rink and playing and it felt good to do what I love, Fleury said. But then I didn’t have the best track of the season either. After that I didn’t play my best hockey.
On the back of Fleury’s custody mask is a special message that his father passed on to him. Ethan Miller/Getty Images
The Golden Knights traded on the 24th. February for Lehner. As a 17-year veteran, Fleury understands that hockey is a business. He holds no grudges, especially against Lehner, and says they have a good relationship.
We have different styles at the net, but we both love the game, Fleury said. And if something happens, a goal or whatever, I know I can always ask him: What’s your opinion? What did you see?
Those who know Fleury know that the more he has played in his career, the better he has played. The goalie can’t explain why, but he thinks less about distractions when he can get into a rhythm. Lehner missed nearly six weeks this season with a concussion, and it’s hard not to compare Fleury’s performance to a return to his normal starting load.
Fleury isn’t ready to go that far. He attributes his success to his teammates – when a goalie plays on a great team, it can make us look a little better, he said – and also to the second chance he got in Vegas.
In my mind, I never want to stop, he said. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my career. Maybe losing my job in Pittsburgh was one of them. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could get back on my feet, that I could fight and keep playing, right? I still love this game. I’m just glad I can still play. I know I have a lot more years behind me than in front of me, so I’m just trying to enjoy the last few years here. As long as my body holds up and I can still help my team, I can still have fun, I hope my career here will last a few more years.
This week’s three stars
What we liked this week
What we didn’t like
Best games of the week
Social post of the week
The trade deadline is still two weeks away, and now that the Canadian federal government has eased the quarantine period for US players coming here (from 14 to 7 days), the market could open. We saw an immediate effect when the Canadiens acquired Eric Staal from Buffalo – and Staal is willing to waive his no-trade clause, in part because of the easing of the quarantine.
I met with the assistant general manager over the weekend and asked him which team he thought had the keys before the deadline. Nashville, he said. I’m very curious to see what they will do.
Two weeks ago, it looked like the Predators would walk out the door. At the time, they had a .411 winning percentage (only the Ducks, Senators, Devils, Red Wings and Sabres were worse). Since then, they have won seven of eight games and are in the finals of the Central Division playoffs with the Chicago Blackhawks. By the way: The Blackhawks have a winning percentage of .375 since the beginning of March.
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The main reason for the Predators’ recent resurgence is their star goalie. Juus Saros returned from injury reserve (upper body injury) and has since given up one or fewer goals in each of his five starts. With Saros and Pekka Rinne, the Predators have a .962 save percentage over the last two weeks.
So what does Nashville do? We know this team has gone from strength to strength since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2017. Director David Poile promised a youth movement, but it never came. The best way to get a youth movement going is an influx of prospects and draft picks.
Matthias Ekholm’s name has been circulating for some time as a leading candidate for the exchange. He will likely become a top defender, and he has an attractive cap hit ($3.75 million) and an extra year on his contract, which is highly sought after by teams. Philip Forsberg is also rumored to be a trade candidate, but it will take a big package to convince the Preds of his offensive talent. Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula’s contracts are expiring, and two weeks ago you could still count on them leaving.
It is important to create a winning culture. With the playoffs around the corner, anything can happen, right? However, if the Predators make the playoffs, likely fourth in the middle, they will face the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round. Another shutout means the Predators start next season….. just like they started this one.
Three Star Week
1. Martin Necas, RV, Carolina Hurricanes…
The 22-year-old Czech is experiencing his big break with the Canes – and is developing a good chemistry with Sebastian Aho. Necas was involved in all four of Carolina’s goals against the Lightning on Saturday, including the game-winner. He has four goals and three assists in three games this week.
Two goals tonight, including the winning goal.
What a night for Martin Necas (@necas88)! pic.twitter.com/mWZBEJzYeX
– NHL (@NHL) 28. March 2021
2. Phil Kessel, RW, Arizona Coyotes.
Phil Trepeth is back. He scored in three consecutive games this week, including a hat trick against the Sharks on Saturday; Arizona won all three. The Yotes are in the Blues’ sights for the fourth playoff spot in the West. The drip system is also very popular.
Purple rain. pic.twitter.com/NeOWd0ruSL
– Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) 24. March 2021
3. Mika Zibanejad, C, New York Rangers.
Now the Swede is the ultimate killer for the Flyers after another ridiculous win (three goals, three assists) in yet another blowout. He became the third player in NHL history to have two games with six or more points against the same opponent in a season – and the first in nearly 80 years. It also remains very classy.
We all know there is only one ROI pic.twitter.com/u409FPhoqS
– Mika Zibanejad (@MikaZibanejad) March 21, 2021
What we liked this week..
1. I’m tempted to say that Adam Fox thrives quietly in New York, but if you’ve watched a Rangers game this season, you’ve probably heard the pressure on him (at MSG or in the opposing team’s broadcast booth).
Still, the 23-year-old will be an important part of New York’s future plans. His offensive talent is undeniable: Fox has currently scored seven games with one goal and 13 (!) assists. But it’s his versatile game that makes him so valuable. This season, Fox is part of the first pair – currently playing with his former U.S. National Development Program partner, Ryan Lindgren – and has been given new responsibilities, including killing penalties.
Whatever the end result, these images with Adam Fox (@foxyclean) are incredible. pic.twitter.com/lfnXMvhX6p
– NHL (@NHL) 27. March 2021
I thought it was a telling statement from Chris Knoblauch, the Hartford Wolfpack coach who filled the Rangers’ bench while David Quinn was on the COVID-19 minutes. I had an idea of what kind of player he was, but seeing him on the ice in the NHL was a revelation to me.
2. From the professor’s son… I think it’s very appropriate:
I remember seeing this picture when I was 4 or 5 and I was terrified that the Jumbotron would fall on Joe and crush my dad, lol pic.twitter.com/adoxvM796F
– Igor Larionov II (@Igor_LarionovII) March 26, 2021
3. Last season, the Penguins made a name for themselves with their resiliency despite an ongoing injury problem. This season… more of the same? After he found his game, Evgeni Malkin got injured. But Pittsburgh went 4-1-1 in his absence.
Impressively, the Penguins were also without forwards Teddy Bluger, Mark Jankowski, Kasperi Kapanan, Brandon Tanev and Jason Zucker for the game against the Islanders, the strongest team in the conference. Pittsburgh was not deterred and scored six goals. The Penguins have drafted a total of 34 players this season.
Coach Mike Sullivan said: I think these guys who play at the NHL level bring a level of urgency, completeness and enthusiasm that can be contagious. The Pens face the Islanders again on Monday with a chance to overtake New York in the battle for second place in the division.
4. Alex Ovechkin on the heat. He has scored 11 goals in his last 11 games and scored the winning goal. Seven players have now scored between 18 and 22 goals. Austin Matthews remains the leader, looking to become the first American to score a goal since Keith Tkachuk in the 1996-97 season. Hang in there, because it could get exciting in the final stages.
What we didn’t like this week
1. Referee Tim Peel was caught on the microphone admitting to putting on makeup and was sent off the field for it. This week, it wasn’t just the NHL. The story has lit up the sports world. It was an A1 story in Wednesday’s Horn. As one veteran told me: In the NHL, game management happens all the time. Tim Peel just got caught. It was crazy how bold Peele was. He wasn’t just speaking into a microphone; according to Matt Duchene in an interview with 102.5 The Game in Nashville, Peel was actually talking to the Predators’ bench when he uttered those now famous words.
A question everyone asks: What’s the solution? I can tell you that the NHL and office manager Stephen Walkom are not considering any major changes to their office program. Clearly, public servants are afraid. One day after Peel was fired, Eric Furlatt worked the Senators’ game against the Leafs. Wayne Simmonds walked over to Furlatt to explain the non-publication. Before Furlatt could respond, he wrapped his arm around the microphone. Yeah, it’s no coincidence.
The biggest change I would like to see: Transparency. Official hockey is complex and unique. The rhythm itself is a cardiovascular problem. Unlike football or basketball, there is no sideline for them to avoid, and they are just as likely to be run over by a Zdeno Chara as another player on the opposing team. In general, I think judges do a good job, but there are many nuances. We, as fans, don’t always see this nuance. The NHL is the only one of the four major professional sports leagues in North America that does not allow reporters to speak with officials after games. When was the last time you heard about the work of an NHL employee? I think this is a mistake.
A few years ago, I wrote an article about officials needing to stay in shape to keep up in the modern NHL. It was very important for the NHL to approve this story and let me speak to the officials. But once I was able to speak with the team, I was amazed at how eager they were to talk to a reporter to explain their work. It humanizes them. It gave me more respect for the work they do. We constantly hear from players, coaches and managers and get their opinions. It is time that civil servants also started to listen more often.
2. It was absolutely heartbreaking to see Aaron Ekblad come off the ice on a stretcher after falling onto the boards in Sunday’s game. It looks like his skates got stuck and his left knee buckled, which is brutal for a guy having the best season of his career. Ekblad’s 11 goals were the most of any defender, and he was well on his way to being seriously considered for the Norris Trophy.
Aaron Ekblad waves to the crowd as he is carried off the ice on a stretcher after injuring his leg pic.twitter.com/R8K9V3U5dS
– Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) March 28, 2021
Injuries are piling up for the Panthers, the favorites in the first half of the season. Captain Alexander Barkov missed his third consecutive game (lower body injury) and Patric Hornqvist also missed the game.
3. Flames coach Darryl Sutter has a reputation for being a tough, old-school coach, and GM Brad Treliving has clearly let him down by giving a group of underdogs the fire. But I found this exchange, which preceded a positive day for Johnny Gaudreau, unnecessarily snarky, petty and downright mean-spirited. There are other ways to motivate players than chasing them away – especially in public:
I hope he has more energy than in his 499 game. – Darryl Sutter on Johnny Gaudreau making his 500th appearance today. Career challenging match @NHL pic.twitter.com/4SPRPePft3
– Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) 27. March 2021
4. Which is worse: What about the Buffalo Sabres, who are on a 17-game winning streak, or the ongoing semantic debate over what constitutes a losing streak? (Buffalo is 0-15-2 as of today).
My opinion: The loss of overtime is still a loss. Although technically this is not the case at this stage.
Best games of the week
Message: Always oriental.
Tuesday, 30. March: Washington Capitals – New York Rangers at 7:00 pm.
The Capitals have finished better than .500 against all of their Eastern Division opponents this year, with the exception of the Rangers. The Blueshirts, who are aiming for a playoff spot, are 3-2 against the Caps this season. Let’s see if a healthy Alex Ovechkin can help even the score.
Thursday, 1. April: Dallas Stars – Nashville Predators at 8 p.m.
The Blackhawks’ recent troubles have opened the door for the Blue Jackets and Stars to catch up, but keep the door open for Nashville. This is a crucial phase for all core teams. Dallas is playing catch-up and desperately needs a win. The Predators are still determining who they want to trade before the trade deadline on the 12th. It’s April’s turn.
Saturday, 3. April: Minnesota Wild against Vegas Golden Knights at 9 p.m.
This is the second game of a two-game series between the top two teams in the Western Division. So far, they have split their four games (with one loss in extension to the Wilds). Despite the recent acquisitions of Matt Dumba and Marcus Johansson, the Wild remain an interesting team to keep an eye on until the trade deadline.
Social Media Post of the Week
RIP Bob Plager, who died this week after suffering a heart attack while driving and crashed on Interstate 64 in St. Louis. Louis. Plager, an original member of the Blues’ expansion team, embodied what it means to take pride in the city you play for.
Blues statement on Plager’s death ended with this sentence: We hope everyone finds the strength to know that Bobby had his parade. Watch this clip of Plager on the ice after the Blues won the Cup. It will give you pleasure.
One of the most emotional moments of the Stanley Cup celebration in Boston was @Frank_Cusumano’s on-ice interview with Bob Plager.
Like St. John’s In St. Louis, she waited half a century for the Bowl and the parade. Glad he finally got the message. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/8phwcIxBTs
– Cory Miller (@corey_miller5) 24. March 2021