The perpetually grinning goalie came into the NHL as the first overall pick in 2003, a draft that turned out to be historically loaded. That’s a tough burden for any netminder, especially when you recall that – believe it or not – the Pittsburgh Penguins were in a positively dreadful place at that time.
“MAF” has seen some serious turbulence on his way to collecting three Stanley Cup rings. He became one of Hockey Twitter’s favorite goalies to ridicule, and at times criticisms were certainly warranted; following his first championship with Pittsburgh, Fleury’s save percentage was below .900 in four straight postseasons. Plenty of goalies wouldn’t be able to rebuild their confidence after such struggles, and there were valleys including some tough times that warranted a well-publicized locker room visit from Mario Lemieux.
Fleury’s eventual exit from Pittsburgh was remarkably classy, but it was more than that. The athletic goalie also happened to go out on a high note.
For all the memories of postseason struggles, Fleury was fantastic during the first half of the Penguins’ 2017 Stanley Cup run, posting a splendid .924 save percentage. How many goalies would be this relaxed during a Game 7 of a playoff series, to the point of teasing Alex Ovechkin after a save that … well, few goalies could author?
Fleury then gave way to Matt Murray without making a stink, passed him the Stanley Cup, and then gracefully accepted going to an expansion team. By gestures alone, he deserves serious kudos:
With Fleury, it’s easy to get distracted by the bigger moments. During the time of that Game 7 save against Nicklas Lidstrom, fancy stats people gradually found themselves rolling their eyes at praise of Fleury. Now, his improved work might be slipping under the radar.
Consider this: in 196 regular-season games from 2014-15 through this season, Fleury sports a strong .920 save percentage, matching Braden Holtby. His 111 wins edges the likes of Carey Price. Fleury ranks in the top 10 of both categories during that time frame for netminders with at least 50 games played.