Updated September 7, 2020 - 8:01 am
Considering all the twists and turns the story has already taken, it’s probably not fair to speculate whether Sunday was the last time Marc-Andre Fleury will start for the Golden Knights.
Too much can happen between now and the Stanley Cup being awarded to close the door on another appearance by Fleury’s gold pads.
But if Game 1 of the Western Conference Final was the goaltender’s final act as the face of the fledgling franchise, he was allowed to exit quietly.
Fleury kept the Knights close with 24 saves, but it wasn’t enough in a 1-0 loss to the Dallas Stars at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta.
Afterward, the 35-year-old Fleury had two questions directed to him in English by the media in a postgame videoconference call, neither of which were about his future, and departed stage left possibly for the final time with the Knights.
“The decision to play Marc-Andre was because of the same reason we started (Robin) Lehner in Game 7. I thought he gave us the best chance to win,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “He was fresh. He’s played well against Dallas. And he gave us a great game. I thought he was our best player. He gave us a chance to hang around when we didn’t deserve to be in the game early. That decision was fairly easy.”
Fleury has made two appearances since his agent posted a picture on Twitter of the goalie with a sword through his back and “DeBoer” inscribed on the blade. The tweet was later deleted.
Lehner earned the nod in the most important games this postseason, including Game 7 against Vancouver. With no back to backs scheduled for this series, it’s likely he will carry the load the rest of the way.
Lehner will be an unrestricted free agent, but could be the goaltender of the future if the Knights can hammer out an extension. That would leave Fleury as the odd-man out.
DeBoer has shown he’s not holding a grudge after Fleury’s camp let its feelings known about the goaltending situation.
If Lehner needs a break or the Knights are down in the series, it’s possible DeBoer turns to the three-time Stanley Cup champion in an effort to rescue the season.
But it’s just as likely that Sunday was Fleury’s farewell.
Here are three more takeaways from the loss:
1. Line shuffle
With the Knights’ top scorers mired in a slump, DeBoer put his middle-six forward lines into the spin cycle on a couple of occasions.
During the second period, DeBoer bumped Nicolas Roy to the line with Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone. He also put Alex Tuch with Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty together, a group known as the “All-American Line” in its brief but successful time together last season.
When that didn’t work, DeBoer swapped Roy and Tuch during the third period.
The Knights have four goals in their past four games and were shut out twice. They’ve scored once at five-on-five, once on the power play and two empty-net goals.
Stone and William Karlsson each have one goal in the past seven games, while Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault haven’t scored since Aug. 23.
Pacioretty has gone four straight games without a goal.
“They (Stars) were exactly what we expected them to be,” DeBoer said. “They’re one or two in the league in the defensive analytics all year. They play a hard, heavy game. They make you work for your offense, and if you’re not willing to work for offense and support offensively, they’re not going to hand it to you.”
2. Where’s the beef?
For the first time in almost eight months, the Knights’ fourth line wasn’t on the ice for the opening faceoff. Instead, DeBoer started Pacioretty, Stephenson and Stone.
The Meat Grinders were without right wing Ryan Reaves, who served a one-game suspension for an illegal check to the head to Vancouver’s Tyler Motte in Game 7 of the conference semifinals. Nick Cousins returned to the lineup after being scratched last game.
The Knights’ fourth line started all 19 games after the all-star break and bye week. The last time it didn’t start was Jan. 21 at Boston when Stephenson, Marchessault and Smith got the assignment.
Did that contribute to the Knights’ slow start? It probably didn’t help.
“He’s a piece of our identity, for sure,” DeBoer said of Reaves. “This is all about interchangeable pieces. One guy goes out, someone else has to come in and get the job done. It’ll be nice to have him back next game. Not a reason that we lost tonight, though.”
3. Power play quickie
The Knights were credited with four power plays, but that’s a bit misleading since their first two lasted a combined 34 seconds.
Shortly after Stastny went to the penalty box for hooking, Dallas’ Joe Pavelski bumped into Fleury and was sent off for goaltender interference. The Knights had an 11-second man advantage once Stastny left the penalty box.
An interference penalty on Pacioretty wiped out a brief second-period power play.
When the Knights had the full two minutes, they didn’t do much with them.
Dallas held the Knights without a shot on goal following a penalty to defenseman Jamie Oleksiak that carried over into the third period. Pacioretty returned to the position in the right circle and fanned on an attempt at the start of the final power play in the third that ended with three shots on Stars goalie Anton Khudobin.
The Knights are 1-for-14 on the power play the past four games.
“I think we’ve had good moments and bad moments,” DeBoer said of the power play before Game 1. “I would call (special teams) a work in progress. I think the penalty killing has been more consistently good than the power play.”
Game 1 — Stars 1, Golden Knights 0
Game 2 — 5 p.m. Tuesday (NBCSN)
Game 3 — 5 p.m. Thursday (NBCSN)
Game 4 — 5 p.m. Saturday (KSNV-3)
*Game 5 — 5 p.m. Sept. 14 (NBCSN)
*Game 6 — 5 p.m. Sept. 16 (NBCSN)
*Game 7 — 6 p.m. Sept. 18 (NBCSN)