With 141 career playoff games and five Stanley Cup Final appearances, not many players can match Marc-Andre Fleury’s playoff resume. The 34-year-old goaltender has seen just about everything over the course of his 15-year career.
But for the first time in a long time, Fleury is going to lead his team into its first Game 7, as tonight’s game against the San Jose Sharks marks the Vegas Golden Knights‘ first Game 7 in franchise history.
Fleury owns a 3-3 all-time record in Game 7’s during his career, but his overall experience in high-pressure situations will certainly help the Golden Knights as they settle in to what should be a raucous atmosphere.
However, if the Golden Knights are going to win Game 7, Fleury will need to be one of the team’s best players, if not the best.
It’s always easy to say it starts and ends with who is between the pipes for any Game 7. But when you look at the way this series has been trending since Fleury's ridiculous performance in Game 4 where he turned aside 28 shots en route to a 5-0 victory, you could make a case that Martin Jones has actually been outplaying Fleury.
During the first four games of the series Jones was simply atrocious, posting a .796 save percentage and allowing a whopping 11 goals on 54 shots. Since then, though, Jones seems to have turned a corner, posting a .967 save percentage and allowing only three goals on 91 shots in Games 5 and 6.
Add it all up and Jones’ .906 save percentage is right behind Fleury’s .912 save percentage for the series. Of course, Jones’ monster performance in Game 6 in which he stopped 58 of 59 shots helped boost his overall numbers, though it was still a clutch performance in an elimination game. If you continue to dig a little deeper into the numbers, though, the gap between Jones and Fleury is not as wide as you might think.
Take high-danger chances, for example. Fleury has stopped 23 of the 29 high-danger shots he’s faced this series, good for a .793 high-danger save percentage and 1.21 high-danger goals-against average.
Meanwhile, Jones has faced 39 high-danger shots and has saved 31 of them, good for a .795 high-danger save percentage and 2.03 high-danger goals-against average. Although the barrage of shots Jones saw in Game 6 did help boost his overall numbers, the total of nine high-danger shots he saw from Vegas in Game 6 was slightly higher than the 6 he was seeing on average earlier in the series.
To put it in perspective, both Fleury and Jones have been up-and-down this series, and their high-danger statistics rank in the bottom six among goaltenders this postseason. The difference between Fleury and Jones, though, is that Fleury has not had the kind of meltdowns Jones has had, and, despite what the numbers say, one could argue Fleury has looked much more comfortable in net this series.
But again, the gap is not as wide as you might think.
Part of that is because it’s possible the Sharks have discovered a potential weakness in Fleury’s game. Surprisingly, it’s his glove. According to The Point Hockey, the Sharks have scored eight of their 16 goals in the top-right corner of the net, over Fleury’s glove.
When you go back and look at these goals, a lot of them were either great shots over his glove or shots from in close, which has happened quite a bit this series with the Sharks’ average goal distance being 18.25 feet, according to Natural Stat Trick.
To be clear, this post is not at all intended to be a “Fleury bashing.” But when you break it all down, it’s clear Fleury has had his moments of greatness in this series, like in Game 4, but it’s fair to say he has also left room for improvement.
The issue now is that the goaltender across from him might be starting to get hot at the right time.
But as we have seen countless times throughout his career, Fleury has an uncanny ability to rise to the occasion and elevate his play to other-worldly levels when necessary.
When you consider how slim the margin for error was in Game 6, a game the Golden Knights dominated from start to finish but still lost, Fleury will need to be extra sharp in Game 7. He does not necessarily have to steal the game in order for the Golden Knights to win, but he does need to be one of the best players on the ice if Vegas wants to have a chance at advancing to the second round.