John Locher / Associated Press
Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021 | 8:20 p.m.
It’s a good thing the Golden Knights didn’t trade Marc-Andre Fleury, after all.
The Golden Knights netminder was all over trade rumors this offseason after Robin Lehner signed a five-year extension with the franchise and was seemingly locked in the Vegas’ primary goalie.
Instead the Golden Knights elected to keep them both and split starts, which is looking like a better and wiser decision every day.
Fleury was thrust into full-time duty when Lehner was a late scratch Thursday, and all he’s done since then was give up two goals in three games, the latest a 30-save shutout Sunday in a 1-0 win against the Colorado Avalanche at T-Mobile Arena.
“I’m feeling a little bit in the legs right now,” Fleury said. “That was fun. Fun to get some good wins and beat a good team today.”
Fleury was in net for Tuesday’s win against the Ducks, while Lehner was scheduled for his turn on Thursday. But Lehner didn’t feel right when he arrived at the rink, and Fleury took the spot start. He also started Saturday’s win in San Jose, giving him four games in six days.
The start today with the sixth time in Fleury’s four-year Vegas career that he started in back-to-back games.
“I think when you look at our schedule and with Robin going down, we’ve asked him to play a bunch of games in a row here and he’s had the energy to do it, and not only do it but do it at a really high level,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “He’s been our best player through this stretch. We’ve got to get him some rest and get him ready for Tuesday.”
Shutouts are often the product of the goalie, and Fleury was indeed great Sunday, but his defense also pitched in.
Colorado’s line of superstar center Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Brandon Saad spent almost 15 minutes on the ice together at 5-on-5, but weren’t able to produce thanks to Vegas defenders Alex Pietrangelo and Alec Martinez. The Colorado line had just one high-danger scoring chance.
“Yeah, I mean they’re going to get chances, right?” Pietrangelo said. “I think the important thing is limiting those chances to maybe not great opportunities, second chances, not allowing them to get those. I thought we did a pretty good job.”
When the Golden Knights signed Pietrangelo to a mega-deal this offseason, they were hoping for games like he turned in Sunday. This was arguably his best game with Vegas.
“I think Alex, great players like that, they have the ability to crank it up and find another level at key moments,” DeBoer said. “I thought tonight he was exceptional. Obviously, with (Shea Theodore) out and playing that Colorado team with their depth and MacKinnon, who might be the best player in the league or in that conversation, that’s a big ask for our group and I thought him and (Martinez) tonight were fantastic.”
Despite the win, there are some reasons for concerns.
Vegas was limited to once goal and has only scored four times over the last three games. Forward Max Pacioretty had the tally, his team-best seventh goal of the season.
Since Thursday’s game where Vegas was shut out, the Golden Knights have had fewer expected goals than their opponent in three games. They beat the Sharks on Saturday thanks to three goals on the power-play, but today’s goal was their first goal at 5-on-5 since Tuesday.
“We were able to hold down the fort, especially (Fleury) being able to keep them off the board, which was important,” Pacioretty said. “But we have to know that we have to be much better, especially 5-on-5.”
Still, the Golden Knights have played a lot over the past week while the Avalanche were coming off a layoff of nearly two weeks after COVID-19-related postponements. Colorado had fresh legs and Vegas still able to win the first of their four-game series.
Much of the credit goes to the brilliance of Fleury, who improved his save percentage to .944 and goals-against average to 1.38 — both best in the league among goalies with as many games as he’s played.
Not bad for someone the Golden Knights could have traded.
This content was originally published here.