NEW YORK — In an effort to downplay his seemingly heavy workload from the past 25 days, Exhibit A presented by Marc-Andre Fleury was the quirk in the schedule that allowed the Golden Knights goaltender to play both games of the past two back-to-backs.
In each scenario, the Knights started with an afternoon game, then had little or no travel before playing the next evening.
The Knights face a similar situation twice this week starting with Sunday’s matinee against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. They conclude their four-game eastern road swing Monday night at Columbus.
It remains to be seen whether Fleury will start both games, but general manager George McPhee isn’t concerned about wearing out the 34-year-old.
“It seems like the more he plays, the better he is,” McPhee said. “He looks great, he feels great. I have no issue with playing him every night.”
The Knights were off Saturday after a 5-4 overtime loss at New Jersey that Fleury called “embarrassing” and will not hold a morning skate before the game against the Rangers, which begins at 9:30 a.m. Pacific time.
That added rest could mean coach Gerard Gallant and goaltending coach Dave Prior continue to ride Fleury.
Fleury leads the NHL in starts with 30 and is on pace for 72, which would top his career high of 66.
During the 2007-08 season, six goaltenders made 70 or more starts, including New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur and San Jose’s Evgeni Nabokov, who each logged 77 starts.
Since the 2011-12 season, though, a total of five goaltenders have logged 70 or more starts.
Fleury started the past 12 games and has allowed three or more goals, going 9-2-1 with a 2.49 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage to help the Knights keep pace in the suddenly competitive Pacific Division.
He is one victory shy of tying Tony Esposito for ninth all time (423 wins).
Backup Malcolm Subban has not played since he was shelled in a 7-2 loss at Calgary on Nov. 19, and Fleury is one of two goaltenders to have all his team’s wins, along with New Jersey’s Keith Kinkaid.
McPhee said the Knights remain committed to Subban as their No. 2 goaltender.
“We like his ability and his approach,” McPhee said. “There are a few games there where we just didn’t help him at all. He’ll get some games, and we’ll see where it goes.”
Subban is 0-4 with a 4.02 goals-against average and .859 save percentage in five appearances after winning 13 of his 19 starts as a rookie.
The Knights also play a day-night back-to-back starting Saturday at home against Montreal, giving Subban another opportunity to give Fleury a breather.
”I told you Subban is going to get his chance sooner or later here and we have confidence in him,” Gallant said Dec. 9. “But when you have the best goalie going every night, you feel good about that. We talk to (Fleury) every day, and he feels good and he is fresh.”
1. Bounce back. The Golden Knights and Rangers are looking to rebound after collapsing on Friday. Both teams blew a 3-0 lead before eventually losing in overtime and will want to wash that taste out of their mouths. For New York, it was the second time in three games that it has squandered a three-goal lead.
2. Wake-up call. This is the fourth afternoon road game the Knights have played, and the results haven’t been favorable. They were outscored 9-3 in losses at Buffalo and Los Angeles, with their lone victory Oct. 13 when they beat Philadelphia 1-0 behind a brilliant effort from goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
3. Tough choice. Max Pacioretty missed Friday’s game at New Jersey with a minor injury, and his status against the Rangers is unclear. If he returns, who will coach Gerard Gallant scratch? Oscar Lindberg is one option, but he’s riding a four-game point streak.
David Schoen Review-Journal