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Headed into Friday’s Game 4 of the Western Conference final, Marc-Andre Fleury’s save percentage in the postseason is .945.
Here now is a full list of goalies who played at least 13 games in a postseason since the salary cap was instituted, and posted a save percentage of at least .945: Marc-Andre Fleury and Jonathan Quick.
That’s it. That’s the total number of goalies who have played at this level for this long in the last 12 years of playoff hockey. Jonathan Quick, you’ll recall, won a Stanley Cup playing like this, because he went .946 over 20 games — a hell of a lot more work than what Fleury’s had to do so far — and at this point there doesn’t seem like a particularly big chance Fleury suddenly stops playing world-beating hockey.
Obviously Fleury was great in the regular season for the Golden Knights but he has brought his game — and his team as a whole — to an entirely different level in the postseason. Even when the Penguins went to the Cup Final in 2007-08, when Fleury was spectacular, he didn’t approach this level of performance.
But what’s different with Fleury now and Quick? Shouldn’t come as any great surprise here, but the answer is “Vegas isn’t as good as those Kings were.”
Quick was great in 2012, for sure, but let’s be honest: Those Kings were the kings of shot suppression and really made his life relatively easy. Based on expected-goals numbers from that postseason, Quick was supposed to give up about 28 goals at 5-on-5 and 42.6 overall. In reality, he gave up just 23 and 29 in the Kings’ run to their first of two Stanley Cups. Clearly he made his money — “10 more years of our goalie” etc. etc. etc. — on special teams, but the numbers clearly suggest that Quick didn’t spend a lot of time under duress.
The team in front of him only gave up 26 shots per 60 minutes of ice time over the whole playoff run, which is an incredible number. Of those 26, only 4.5 were from high-danger areas, and to his credit, Quick carried a very-solid .828 on high-danger chances in all situations.
Now let’s look at Fleury’s numbers. Vegas gives up about 31 shots per 60 minutes overall, of which 5.1 are high-danger. That’s a very solid job limiting shots on goal from in close by Vegas, but where Quick was excellent on those scary shots, Fleury is other-worldly, at .853.
These same numbers apply to medium-danger shots, too, only the gap between Fleury and Quick here gets worse. Quick faced a little more than 10 outside scoring chances per 60, while Fleury is closer to 15. That makes a pretty good-sized difference in terms of expected save percentages.
Put simply, Fleury has been both a lot busier and a good amount better.
Indeed, he’s only “supposed to” be stopping about .912 in all situations right now. For reference, going about .912 would put him somewhere between Andrei Vasilevskiy and Devan Dubnyk in terms of performance in these playoffs, which is fine but not heroic or anything. Fleury is 33 points(!) above that level.
When Quick won his first Cup, the difference between expected and actual save percentage was “only” 25 points. And to be clear, 25 points is a huge amount, but when you’re expected to be .921 in all situations, your team is making it very, very easy for you. To put it in perspective, Quick was only supposed to have given up about 5.5 more goals in seven extra games. That’s a huge difference in shot quality faced.
Among goalies with at least 800 minutes across all sitautions since 2007-08, Fleury’s is the second-largest difference between expected and actual save percentage, behind only Jonas Hiller’s .943 versus .909 expected from 2008-09. Hiller’s team also lost in seven games in the second round to the juggernaut Red Wings — the best team of the Behind the Net era and it’s not even close — after beating the extremely high-scoring Sharks in the first round.
So in terms of all-time great postseason performances for this era, Fleury is probably having the second- or maybe third-best run we’ve seen in a very long time.
This all comes with the caveat that it’s only 13 games, and just because you were amazing for 13 games doesn’t mean you will continue to be amazing for however many games you might think you have left, especially if Winnipeg continues to play the way it did after going down 2-1 in Game 3.
But Fleury’s play to this point has been such that even if you could say L.A. or San Jose presented a threat to him or Vegas, it ended up not mattering. Likewise, Winnipeg is quickly getting to the end of its runway — two losses away, and yes that was a plane joke — and while you can say, “Ah look at all those goals they almost scored, though,” almost-scoring goals doesn’t get you very far in a short series.
At this point we’re so far into the pocket on this that there shouldn’t even be a Conn Smythe ballot. Fleury has allowed more goals than expected in just four of his team’s 13 games so far and in another he was right on the money. Mathematically, that’s “stealing” like 70 percent of the games played, especially because Vegas has gotten seven of its 10 wins either by a goal or a goal plus an empty-netter. That includes four straight one-goal wins over the Kings.
The extent to which Fleury has been The Difference for this team — even with how incredibly well that top line has performed — cannot be oversold. He isn’t the only reason the team is two wins away from a Cup Final as an expansion team, but he’s so far ahead of the No. 2 reason that it looks like a dot on the horizon, barely there at all.
I’d probably give him the Conn Smythe regardless of how the rest of this series goes. Unless he gives up a touchdown in three straight games, one imagines he’ll never be able to come close to tarnishing what he’s done so far.
All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.
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