What the Sports happened to Marc-Andre Fleury? Let that question simmer just a minute.
Coming into the Stanley Cup Finals, Fleury was a favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the playoffs MVP. However, the outcome was losing to the Caps in five games marked by inconsistent play, with Washington forward Alexander Ovechkin winning the award.
Going into the finals, Fleury boasted a .943 save percentage with four shutouts. Fleury had never lost to Washington in the playoffs. Prior to being supplanted by Matt Murray as starter in Pittsburgh, and before being selected by Vegas in the expansion draft, he shut down the Caps on multiple occasions.
This year was different for “The Flower”. He suffered his first playoff series loss to the Caps. And he wasn’t as good as he had been the previous three rounds. Granted he didn’t get a ton of help from his defense against Washington, but that’s only part of the problem. Fleury himself regressed quite a bit from the previous rounds.
NBC Sports explored this phenomena prior to Game 5. Vegas gave up fewer high danger shots (high percentage shots) per game to the Caps than it did in the previous two rounds. They gave up fewer high danger shots and had fewer high danger saves. Fleury’s save percentage and high danger save percentage dropped significantly against Washington compared to the first three rounds.
So while it’s accurate to say that Fleury didn’t get much help from his defense against the Caps, we can’t look past the fact that Fleury wasn’t getting much help from the defense the entire playoffs.
So what does this all mean? It means that in the first three rounds, Fleury was playing lights out and making incredible saves on shots that should have been scored. He was playing at an historic level. The Caps were getting less high percentage shots, but Fleury was playing worse in those situations against the Caps.
Fleury just wasn’t playing up to the level he had played in the first three round or to the level he historically played at against Washington.
Statistically, his performance against the Caps was uncharacteristic. As a Caps fan I am surprised at how well Ovechkin and the Caps were able to perform against Fleury.
In this series against the Caps, Fleury went 1-4 with a .853 save percentage and a 4.09 goals against average – a stark difference from last year in the playoffs when Fleury had a 4-3 record with a .921 save percentage and a 2.58 goals against average. He also had a shutout.
What about in the regular season? Well, Fleury has historically been dominant against the Caps.
This season, Fleury went 2-0 against Washington with a .939 save percentage and a 1.50 goals against average as well as a shutout. Over the course of his career, Fleury is 22-12-2, with a .919 save percentage and a 2.51 goals against average and five shutouts.
He has dominated the Caps over the course of his career in the regular season and in the playoffs, until this season.
Let’s look past the stats and take a look at some of the goals that he gave up to help further paint this picture.
This play wasn’t all Fleury’s fault. It was just bad all around. Vegas couldn’t win the face off in their defensive zone, they also left Michal Kempny wide open in 4 v 4 hockey. With that much space on the ice, you can’t leave someone that wide open. Because Kempny was so wide open, Fleury had to cheat towards that side of the ice, leaving him so far out of position when the pass went back to Eller, who had a wide open net. Fleury had Miller backside for help, but Eller was able to elevate the puck over Miller’s stick. Fleury’s positioning was bad, but it was necessary to compensate for the defensive breakdown in front of him.
On this play, Fleury’s rebound control wasn’t very good. He gave up three rebounds, including the one that went onto Ovechkin’s stick for the goal. Again there were a few defensive breakdowns in front of him, but you can’t give up second and third chance opportunities to the dangerous Caps team.
Terrible positioning and a slow transition left a wide open net for Carlson to score this goal. Fleury was really slow to get to the back side of the net because of out of position he was. Side note, what a pass from T.J. Oshie.
Again terrible positioning, especially since the play is happening right in front of him. I don’t know if it’s because of his age or what, but he seems to be a lot slower in his transition game. He should have been more square in the net so that the other side of the net wouldn’t have been that wide open.
Two main things with that goal. First, notice how far out in front of the net he is. That is pretty poor positioning because of the room it gives the offense to get behind him with a wide open net. Secondly, that was poor puck control by Fleury to allow Eller to grab the puck for maybe the easiest shot ever.
While Fleury made some incredible saves this series, he also allowed some bad goals. The defense in front of him was mediocre at best, but Vegas needed him to play at his best against the Caps, and he couldn’t get it done.
Looking to the future, Vegas is going to need the 33-year-old to play more like he did in the first three series of the playoffs, which his resume shows he is capable of doing, at least until one of their young goalie prospects are ready to take the torch from the decorated veteran.