2017-18 Player Review: Marc-Andre Fleury was the driving force behind Vegas’ unprecedented run

Spoiler alert: Flower had a pretty good year.

In the 2017-18 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2017-18 performances of each member of the Golden Knights. We have assigned each player a grade, which is a Knights On Ice composite grade made up of our individual ratings. Players were evaluated based on overall performance in both the regular season and playoffs, especially with regard to pre-season expectations and how that player performed in his particular role. Note: Only skaters who played in at least 20 games and goalies who played in at least 10 games were included.

It was well known for quite some time that there was a very strong likelihood that Marc-Andre Fleury would backstop the Golden Knights organization in its inaugural campaign, and the excitement overflowed when the official announcement was made in last summer’s expansion draft. Fleury had waived his no-trade clause with the Pittsburgh Penguins, with whom he spent his entire career, to step in to the Vegas spotlight as the leader of the NHL’s newest franchise. While Fleury had a lot more support on the roster of Golden Misfits than many expected, he certainly led the way on an extraordinary ride that ended three wins shy of the Stanley Cup. Here’s an overview of his 2017-18 season.

Season in review

Following a 3-0-0 start, Fleury took a knee to the head from Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha Oct. 13 and consequently missed two months with a concussion. Thus began the infamous goalie carousel of 2017. When he finally returned, he quickly regained his early-season form and carried that level of play through the rest of the regular season, recording shutouts against Washington, Nashville, Detroit and Calgary. That’s good for four shutouts; remember that number.

Not only was his 2017-18 performance arguably the best of his 14-year NHL career, but it was one of the better statistical seasons among all goalies in the National Hockey League. There’s a reason he finished fifth in Vezina voting and was one of only four goalies to earn a first-place Vezina vote despite playing just 46 games.

That’s because he finished the season with a 29-13-4 record along with a 2.24 goals-against average and .927 save percentage, both career highs. His goals-against average ranked second among all goalies (min. 6 games), while his save percentage ranked sixth among goalies who appeared in at least 20 games and second among goalies who played in at least 40. He picked up his 400th career win and now sits 11th in all-time goalie wins with 404.

The former first overall pick made his third All-Star Game appearance in late January, but he was saving his true all-star performance for the playoffs.

That was really the only question mark surrounding the 33-year-old’s game. Past playoff struggles saw him implode in the 2012 playoffs, yield the net to Tomas Vokoun in the 2013 postseason and take a back seat to the Matt Murray show in 2016 and 2017. The fact that Vegas was able to ice a true franchise goaltender in its first season was a gift from the hockey gods, and while no one expected the playoffs in Year 1, there was some uncertainty about which Fleury would show up once the Knights eventually clinched a playoff berth. Needless to say, Fleury silenced any doubters very early on and proceeded to put on a spectacle through the first three rounds en route to his fourth Stanley Cup Final.

First, he out-dueled Jonathan Quick in a first-round sweep of the Los Angeles Kings as the Knights became the first expansion team in NHL history to sweep a postseason series in its inaugural season. Fleury recorded an unfathomable 0.65 goals-against average and .977 save percentage along with two shutouts. He gave up a total of three goals in the entire series. Three.

Round two featured another worthy goalie matchup as San Jose’s Martin Jones had pulled off a four-game sweep of his own in the first round. Though the Sharks handed Fleury and the Knights their first-ever postseason losses, Vegas prevailed as Fleury came away with a 2.14 goals-against average, .935 save percentage and two shutouts. Through two rounds, Fleury was 8-2 with a 1.53 goals-against average and .951 save percentage. He also had four shutouts, the same number he produced in 46 games in the regular season, in just 10 games. He and the Knights eventually eliminated the Sharks in six games to advance to the third round.

There, Fleury would meet Connor Hellebuyck, who was coming off a breakout 44-win regular season as well as series victories against Minnesota and Nashville in the first two rounds. For the first time, Vegas lost the first game of the series as Winnipeg came roaring out of the gate. But no matter how well the Jets played, Fleury and the Knights would not lose again. Vegas won four straight games to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

It was in that fourth round, however, where the wheels fell off. This time it was Vegas that got off to a 1-0 series lead before surrendering four straight, resulting in the Capitals lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup. Fleury finished the five-game series with a 1-4 record as well as a 4.09 goals-against average and .853 save percentage.

But a lot of it wasn’t on Fleury, regardless of the numbers, as Washington completely exposed the holes in Vegas’ game and sniffed out and exploited any hesitation from the Vegas defenders. Still, Fleury was no longer able to steal games for his team, as Washington’s push was just too much to overcome. That’s not at all a slight on Fleury, for Alex Ovechkin, Braden Holtby and the entire Capitals roster played a fantastic series and undoubtedly deserved the ultimate prize in the end.

But there’s also no doubt that Fleury was Vegas’ MVP in the postseason. Though the Knights won and lost as a team, Fleury rose above and beyond what anyone could have expected or hoped for, taking his game to a level many goalies only dream of reaching.

Standout moment

It’s difficult to single out one or two highlights from a season replete with outstanding saves, critical stops and sensational grabs. But to choose one move from Fleury’s repertoire is not to forget the others, which leaves us with the “dolphin dive” against Winnipeg.

Fleury reached within to his animal nature to pull off this series of saves against Mark Scheifele in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final.

It’s the second save that is particularly magnificent, especially when you consider how utterly dominant Winnipeg was playing at that point in the game.

One could easily argue that this was the turning point in the series.

Fleury transformed before our very eyes to weather a storm that he had no business weathering, and he did so with unflinching nerve and, in typical Fleury fashion, a smile on his face.

Though that might have been Fleury’s best save of the year, here are a few other great ones.

KOI composite grade: A

Knights On Ice awarded Fleury a composite grade of A, with grades ranging “all the way” from A- to A+.

Only William Karlsson earned a higher grade (A+), and that’s mainly because his breakout campaign was one of the biggest surprises in the NHL all year.

However, that shouldn’t take anything away from what Fleury was able to do, and man did he have a good year. In fact, his 2017-18 performance had everything but the finish, and that’s hardly on him alone.

Not only was he thrilling on the ice, but his veteran leadership and infectious attitude kept this team relaxed from day one.

As well as so many players on the Golden Knights played last year, the simple truth is that Vegas’ incredible run would not have been possible without Fleury. Period.

His numbers, apart from the Final, were stellar.

Fleury stat comparison

Regular season4629-13-442.240.927100
Rd 1 vs. LAK44-020.650.9773
Rd 2 vs. SJS64-222.140.93514
Rd 3 vs. WPG54-102.020.93810
Rd 4 vs. WSH51-404.090.85320

Additionally, according to Hockey Reference, Fleury finished the postseason with a goals saved above average of 9.41, which led all goaltenders (though he and Holtby played more games than everyone else). Essentially, this means Fleury prevented at least nine more goals than the average goaltender would have been expected to save. Over the course of 20 competitive playoff games, that number is huge.

By comparison, he finished the regular season with a GSAA of 20.77, which was the highest of his career, despite playing in just 46 games.

Every way you look at it, Fleury was outstanding last season, and he is more than worthy of having one of the top grades on the team.

Looking ahead to 2018-19

Despite Fleury’s remarkable 2017-18 season, there’s technically a chance he could lose the starter’s gig in training camp.

Just kidding. Rest assured, Fleury will be the Vegas starter this season and for the foreseeable future. The three-year, $21 million extension he signed this offseason proves that he is “the guy” moving forward, and the $7 million AAV shows just how important he is to this team. That contract doesn’t kick in until next season, though, as he has one more year at an AAV of $5.75 million. But that means Fleury is locked up for the next four seasons.

Expect there to be plenty more of these moments along the way:

How would you grade Fleury’s 2017-18 performance?

C- or below0