Tim Benz: Fleury ‘one of best of all time,’ now Vegas sees it, too
In 2009, Marc-Andre Fleury made that save in Detroit during Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Last spring, Matt Murray had that nod in Ottawa during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final.
That perfectly timed TV shot of Murray looking back up the bench acknowledging Mike Sullivan as the coach was giving Murray the order to replace Fleury in the first period after the Senators had scored four times.
It was the perfect embodiment of what Murray has become as the Penguins goaltender. Calm. Prepared. Confident.
Simultaneously, it was also an unfitting end for Fleury, whose skate to the bench at that moment would be his last time on the ice in a game as a Penguins goaltender.
The best one this franchise has ever known.
On Tuesday, he returns to PPG Paints Arena for the first time since being acquired by the Vegas Golden Knights this summer.
Murray went on to win that Ottawa series and the next one against Nashville as the Penguins hoisted a second consecutive Stanley Cup. They wouldn’t have gotten there without Fleury’s expertise in goal over the first two rounds while Murray was injured.
And many in that locker room stated they wouldn’t have gotten there if Fleury hadn’t been so supportive of Murray once he regained his health and starter’s role.
After all, what had Fleury done to deserve a benching in the two previous games against Ottawa after eliminating Washington and Columbus?
He lost a 2-1 overtime decision in Game 1 and won 1-0 in Game 2.
That’s not to mention the calm with which he supported Murray during the 2016 championship run as Fleury watched from the bench following a regular season which saw him post 35 wins and career-best statistics in save percentage (.921) and goals against average (2.29).
What if someday Murray can’t get back on the ice because Tristan Jarry or Casey DeSmith is scalding hot during the playoffs? Eventually, perhaps he’ll be called upon to play spot duty behind Filip Gustavsson.
What did Murray learn from Fleury when the inevitable cycle of goalie-life completes itself?
“How to be a professional,” Murray said Monday. “As a kid coming into the NHL, I don’t really think you understand what it takes to be successful night-in and night-out. It’s really difficult to do. And ‘Flower’ exemplified that.
“He’s one of the best of all time.”
Murray said he picked up things Fleury did throughout their partnership as goaltenders both in terms of words and actions. Although Fleury insisted any type of professorial role he was playing wasn’t planned.
“It’s not like we had classes,” Fleury said with a laugh Monday. “I learned from my (older) teammates, how they handle themselves off the ice. I just try to be a good example for the younger guys.”
Whatever mentorship skills Fleury mastered now are apparently being disseminated in Las Vegas, too.
“His actions speak so loudly,” fellow Knights goaltender Malcolm Subban said. “He doesn’t need to say anything. You learn just from watching him and seeing how he handles stuff. He has such a great personality.”
Subban is just 24 years old. He entered this season with two NHL games under his belt. Three other goalies, all 25 or younger, also have been in the blue paint for the expansion club this season. Following Fleury’s lead, they have combined to go 20-9-2 in games Fleury hasn’t played.
Meanwhile, Fleury has won 15 of his 21 starts. His save percentage is .939, and his goals-against average is 1.84. Both of those stats are second best in the NHL.
If failure does hit Fleury, that’s where the other Vegas goalies would be most wise to observe.
“It’s having thick skin. As a goalie, you have to be able to take criticism,” Jarry said. “You have to be able to put it behind you very quickly. You have to be able to focus on the next play or the next shot. That’s something he’s very good at.”
Earlier in his career, that was never the scouting report on Fleury. Letting in bad goals mounted into bad games and bad stretches. But having dealt with so much of that while still being so young, Fleury has passed on advice to his fledgling proteges about how to cope with the fallout.
As for the criticism part? Fleury repeatedly owned blame from some in the fan base for being the main reason why the Penguins failed against lower-seeded teams in postseasons from 2010-15.
Even though that blame was woefully misguided.
No. As Fleury said, there are “no classes” for that. But if he ever decides to write a text book, every up-and-coming goalie should read it.
Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.