Marc-Andre Fleury has played in enough preseasons to know the magnitude of such games is of no importance. Fleury is no ordinary goaltender, however.
He’s a donut-providing savant to the city of Las Vegas who tries to score empty-net goals even in games that don’t count.
Preseason does count for one thing, at least for one night: Fleury looks to be ready for the regular season. In his first start this preseason, Fleury made 26 saves and the Vegas Golden Knights improved to 5-1 in this exhibition campaign with a 2-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings at T-Mobile Arena on Friday.
Ryan Reaves and Brayden McNabb scored the lone goals for Vegas, which closes preseason play Sunday at home against the San Jose Sharks.
The Kings, granted, did not play their top stars on this night: Anze Kopitar, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jonathan Quick or Drew Doughty. Vegas rolled out nearly its entire lineup that will be on the ice Oct. 4 for the season opener with the exception of Alex Tuch — a late scratch for Gerard Gallant in order to get one more look at Daniel Carr.
That was irrelevant for Fleury. The degree of difficulty increased as the game went on. He went from making solid stops with the glove to breaking out the poke check just for fun.
The Fleury poke check is back in all its glory. pic.twitter.com/xTPt1VldCK— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) September 29, 2018
He’s rolling on the ice, flailing his arms and probably throwing his head back in laughter each time something happens. He’s even back to thanking his best friend’s best friend, the crossbar, after Adrian Kempe nearly scored a goal in the third period.
Fleury’s in playoff mode, clearly.
“No,” the man said laughing. “I was scrambling a bunch a few times. The score doesn’t always show the game.”
Not that preseason games produce a psychological edge for one team over the other, yet Vegas won both games against Los Angeles in the preseason. The first one was the oddball: 7-2 at Staples Center. This one had the feel of these two teams reenacting their first-round playoff series from last year. It was two goalies playing really well until the final buzzer. Instead of the Great Wall of Quick, it was Jack Campbell in net for the Kings. You remember him — the last time he played at T-Mobile Arena, Campbell had 41 saves and got his first NHL win in Vegas.
Campbell played well once again with 28 saves. He made some really good stops — notably a one-timer off William Karlsson and a one-on-one battle with Shea Theodore in the slot that would be a goal on most nights. But it takes someone like Ryan Reaves to break the ice in this goaltending battle. The fourth-line forward scored his first goal, in his first preseason game, at 6:55 of the second period off a deflection from Jonathan Marchessault.
“Easy to get up for these ones when you have fans like that,” Reaves said of the 17,928 fans who showed up at T-Mobile Arena to chant “Beat L.A.” and indulged in some donuts. “It didn’t feel like a preseason game, it was a regular season game. I had a lot of time off to watch the boys and it was time to get back to work.”
Per typical Knights-Kings matchups, there were moments of chippiness. Nearly 100 percent of them involved Reaves. For him, those antics go back years of playing Los Angeles, even when he was in St. Louis.
“I’m up for playing them at any time,” Reaves said. “The hatred isn’t going to leave. It’ll be there forever.”
Joking or not, Reaves is the enforcer on the fourth line and will have that role until proven otherwise. But it was a different looking fourth line than what’s been the norm for Vegas. Reaves, William Carrier and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare displayed some forechecking that hasn’t been seen from the 41 line. That was surprising because Tomas Nosek appears to be heading for the third line at season’s start.
Each fourth-liner had a Corsi For Percentage over 50 percent, with Reaves leading the way at 58. There weren’t many shots generated, but the Golden Knights’ fourth line each generated some attack in the offensive zone. Carrier had two high-danger shots near the net, both saved by Campbell, but there were glimpses of what Vegas can do when rolling all four lines.
“You can’t have just three lines playing and scoring all the goals and getting all the chances,” Reaves said. “You’ve got to have four lines. Will had a few good chances, [Bellemare] had some good chances. I thought our line, for the most part, played pretty well and that’s something we’ve got to bring to the regular season.”
If this fourth line can generate some of that forechecking to the regular season, who knows what the end result will be?
— This deserves its own nugget. Marc-Andre Fleury damn near scored an empty-net goal.
Okay, maybe not, but he did go for it. Fleury, who has longed for such glory, took the puck and tried to fire it down the ice for his first ever goal. Alas, it was intercepted at the blue line and such glory will have to wait.
“I had the right line,” Fleury said. “But it was so weak.”
One day, Flower. One day. In the meantime, go get you some donuts.
Shea Theodore played 20:50 in his first game since signing his seven-year, $36.4 million deal on Monday. He had an assist on the Reaves goal and had four shots, while blocking three.
“For the first game of the year, you’re going to get some rust,” Theodore said. “There are definitely a couple plays I would like back, but I get two shots before the real deal begins and overall, I thought I felt a lot better in the third.”
Tomas Nosek continues to see more ice time in scoring situations. He played his second straight game on the third line, a role he’s been coveting since the start of camp, and got some work on the first power play unit with the Karlsson line and Colin Miller.
The coaching staff has taken heed of Nosek’s breakout improvement since the tail-end of last season’s playoff run and it shows. If Vegas is going to continue the trend of putting four forwards on the power play, Nosek could see an even bigger role this year than anticipated. No. 92 continues to do the little things right.