Since that day in June when Marc-Andre Fleury was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, Penguins fans have envisioned the game when he would return to Pittsburgh to get his proper due. While all kinds of different scenarios probably played out in Penguins’ fans minds, it is pretty unlikely that any of them imagined that Fleury would be coming to town in February as the netminder of the Western Conference’s best team.
Heading into play on Tuesday night, the Golden Knights were three points ahead of both Winnipeg and Nashville for the top spot in the West. While the Golden Knights have been good all season, the team’s play really began to surge with the return of Fleury in early December after missing two months with a concussion. His .939 save percentage is second in the NHL only to the Blues’ Carter Hutton, who has played two less games than Fleury. He may not win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender because of his low number of games played, but he will certainly be in the discussion.
Of course, none of this comes as any surprise to Penguins fans who got to witness Fleury’s phenomenal play for 13 seasons. The reception Fleury received on Tuesday night was, undoubtedly, the longest and loudest ovation for any returning player in Penguins history. He ranks in the same atmosphere with Mario Lemieux and Roberto Clemente as one of the most beloved athletes in the history of Pittsburgh sports. All of this being said, the celebration on Tuesday night was not a lifetime achievement celebration for Fleury, in fact it was quite the opposite. It may have been a Stanley Cup Final preview. The fact of the matter is that Fleury still has plenty of years of good hockey left.
Fleury just recently moved past Dominik Hasek for 12th place all-time in wins (390) and could, conceivably, move into 10th place by season’s end. He is only 33 years old. If he plays another five seasons after this one he would only need to average 30 wins per season to finish second all-time in wins, ahead of the great Patrick Roy. Sure, he will be 39 by then, but he has topped the 30-win plateau eight times in his career already and could do so again this season despite missing two months. If injuries had not shortened his seasons in each of the past two campaigns he would already be firmly entrenched in the top ten wins of all-time.
To further illustrate how great Fleury was during his tenure in Pittsburgh, consider that his 375 wins and 691 games played both rank first in Penguins history; a fact that most Penguins fans know. However, consider that there are only three other goaltenders in NHL history that have won more games for one franchise than the 375 he won for the Penguins. Only Martin Brodeur (688, New Jersey), Tony Esposito (418, Chicago), and Henrik Lundqvist (426, New York Rangers) have won more games for one franchise than Fleury did in Pittsburgh. When looking at Esposito’s numbers, it took him 182 more games played than Fleury to earn the 43 additional wins over Fleury; Esposito played 873 games for Chicago, while Fleury played 691 for Pittsburgh. It is a testament to Fleury and his time in Pittsburgh that he would be the all-time winningest goaltender for 28 other NHL franchises based on what he accomplished for the Penguins. Technically speaking, he is the all-time wins leader for two NHL franchises, the Penguins and the Golden Knights.
The end result of the game may not have been ideal for Fleury, but his team is still tops in the Western Conference. While the schedule maker dictates that Vegas only comes to Pittsburgh once this season, there’s still a real chance that Pittsburgh might see a Fleury in June.