The Golden Knights’ No. 1 goaltender is expected to reclaim his net Tuesday when they host Carolina at T-Mobile Arena to begin a five-game pre-Christmas homestand. Fleury hasn’t played since Oct. 13 when he sustained a concussion in the second period against Detroit. He finished the game, a 6-3 loss to the Red Wings, then was placed on the injured reserve list the following day.
Fleury missed the next 25 games. But the Knights flourished as Malcolm Subban, Oscar Dansk and Maxime Lagace filled the void. The Knights went 16-8-1 without Fleury and are in second place in the Pacific Division with 39 points, four behind Los Angeles. The Knights, who are riding a four-game winning streak, also have two games in hand on the Kings.
“I’m excited to be back,” Fleury said after Monday’s practice at City National Arena. “Obviously, it was difficult sitting out and not being able to help the team. I wish I could have come back sooner. But the other goalies did a great job.”
Don’t expect the Knights to change the way they play now that they have their starting goalie back. Fleury was 3-1 with a 2.48 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage when he went on the IR.
“I think you’ll see us keep things the same way,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said. “It’s great to have him back but we don’t need to change anything.”
Defenseman Colin Miller said Fleury’s puck-handling skills could provide another dimension when it comes to transitioning from defense to offense.
“He’s really good when he gets the puck on his stick,” Miller said. “If he can pass it up to our forwards, that helps everyone.”
Fleury, who has two prior documented concussions prior to suffering the third of his career back on Oct. 13, said he knew something was wrong the day after the loss to Detroit.
“At first, I thought it was just my neck,” he said. “But then I started getting headaches and I knew it was more than my neck.”
He hoped the latest concussion, which took place when Anthony Mantha’s knee collided with Fleury’s head, would be brief. But the days turned to weeks and then, months. But having been through it before, the 33-year-old Fleury knew the drill.
There would be treatment. There would be protocols to clear. There would be off-ice workouts. But the fact the team kept competing and winning during his absence helped take some of the sting out of Fleury’s recovery.
“It was hard work,” he said. “There was a lot of cardio, weights, lots of stuff. But I’m feeling good and ready to go.”
The one adjustment Fleury said he’ll need to make as he returns is the speed of the game.
“The (NHL) game moves very fast,” he said. “Seeing the puck in traffic. Reacting to shots in a live game. Those are the adjustments I’ll need to make.”
Coach Gerard Gallant said he likes what he has seen of Fleury since he returned to the ice last week. And if he starts Tuesday as expected, it will give the team an emotional lift.
“He looks real good. He seems quick,” Gallant said. “He’s missed a lot of time. But he’s been on the ice the past week and he seems like he’s ready to go. We’re all excited to have him back.”
Three storylines to follow:
1. The return of Flower. Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to make his first start in goal since suffering a concussion Oct. 13. How sharp will he be? How will his teammates play in front of him? Will the defense take a few more liberties knowing they have their No. 1 goalie between the pipes? And will Carolina test Fleury, both in volume of shots and in crashing his crease in an attempt to un-nerve him?
2. Huge homestand. The Knights are playing their next five games at home, where they are 11-2. However, they will face some of the NHL’s best teams and individual players during the 12-day stretch, including Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Washington. All five games will be against Eastern Conference foes and will be the first meeting with each of the five. Suffice to say, this is a big stretch which will test the Knights for class against some of the league’s elite.
3. Road-weary? The Knights are catching Carolina on the back end of back-to-back games and the Hurricanes may be a bit leg-weary from having played against a physical Anaheim team Monday night. The ‘Canes will be playing their fifth game of a six-game road trip that concludes in Buffalo on Friday. They have lost the first three on the trip, including two in overtime at San Jose and Los Angeles.