January 25, 2006 was a very important date in NHL history. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals were set to face off for their second meeting of the 2005-2006 season. At the time, neither team was in a particularly good place. The Capitals were sporting a 17-25-5 record while the Penguins were in the midst of a 10-game losing streak with just 11 wins on the season.
Despite both teams’ struggles, however, the hockey world was totally captivated by a pair of generational talents — Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin — facing off for the second time in their historic rookie campaigns. On this day, Crosby got the better of Ovechkin, scoring one goal and assisting on three others to help guide the Penguins to a dominant 8-1 victory.
Washington’s one goal was scored by, of course, Ovechkin.
Crosby and Ovechkin were the deserved recipients of the spotlight, but there was another young star on the ice that day who put together an impressive performance of his own.
Fleury, drafted first overall by the Penguins just a few years prior in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, was playing against the Capitals for the very first time in his career. And after losing his previous seven starts, he quietly put together a solid 29-save performance while Crosby was being rightfully celebrated for his four-point explosion.
The Crosby versus Ovechkin rivalry is one for the ages, but the history between Ovechkin and Fleury is nothing to sneeze at either. And with the two set to meet again in this year’s Stanley Cup Final, the best of the matchup may be yet to come.
Ovechkin has scored 22 goals in 38 career regular season games against Fleury. He’s also beaten Fleury 10 times in postseason play. Those numbers aren’t exactly inspiring for Fleury, but while Ovechkin owns the stat sheet against the former Penguins netminder, it’s Fleury who owns the win column.
In 36 regular season contests against Ovechkin’s Capitals, Fleury has a record of 22-12-2 (Braden Holtby, for those of you who may be curious, is 8-10-2 against Fleury’s teams during the regular season). Fleury’s success against Washington hasn’t been limited to just the regular season, though. He has faced the Capitals in the postseason twice in his career, winning both series in seven games for an 8-6 record.
Even after being selected by the Golden Knights in last summer’s expansion draft, Fleury has continued to find success against his former division rival. Vegas came out victorious in both of its regular season outings against the Capitals this year, which included a 26-save shutout by Fleury in their Dec. 23 meeting (Fleury’s first shutout as a Golden Knight).
Not so coincidentally, both Fleury and Ovechkin are in the running for this year’s Conn Smythe Trophy. But Fleury’s postseason heroics have been particularly well-documented. As if his ridiculous .947 save percentage isn’t enough, his 1.68 goals against average is simply unprecedented in the modern era.
Of course, that’s not to say Ovechkin’s postseason hasn’t been anything short of spectacular. His 12 goals and 22 points through 19 games are both playoff highs for him. Not surprising considering this is by far the closest he’s come to hoisting the Cup.
Ovechkin finally making it to the Stanley Cup Final is one heck of a story. But it’s only natural that Fleury, one of the few goalies he’s had a hard time beating in his career, will be there to greet him.