PITTSBURGH — More than two years have passed since Marc-Andre Fleury was selected by the Golden Knights in the expansion draft and it’s still “weird” for the goaltender to face his former club.
But Fleury turned in the kind of performance Saturday that made him a beloved figure in PPG Paints Arena.
Fleury finished with 29 saves, including a handful of the 10-bell variety, leading the Knights to a 3-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It’s always fun for me to come back, and I saw so many people with signs and my jersey, waving, cheering,” Fleury said. “I think it will always be a little special coming back here.”
The win was the 445th of Fleury’s career, moving him into a tie with Terry Sawchuk for seventh on the all-time list. He also matched Clint Benedict for 20th all time with his 57th career shutout.
It was the 100th regular-season win in Knights franchise history (100-59-14). Only the 1917-18 original Ottawa Senators reached the plateau in fewer games (165).
“I thought it was our best game of the year, personally,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “Guys stepped up and they battled for their goalie tonight, and our goalie was outstanding. I thought it was a good team game.”
Here’s what stood out from the Knights’ win:
1. Fun with Flower
When he arrived at the arena, Fleury pranked Penguins TV reporter Dan Potash by tying his microphone cord into a knot. Then at the end of warmups, Fleury had a fun moment with Penguins defenseman Kris Letang as the two waited out each other to be the last off the ice.
But Fleury was locked in from the start, turning away Patric Hornqvist from point-blank range in the first period and robbing Juuso Riikola midway through the third.
“They’re very good at those passes across,” Fleury said. “They find seams, they find guys across the crease on both sides. I just tried to be aware of where guys are at and got lucky with a couple posts.”
Fleury’s most memorable sequence came during the final minute of the second period when his helmet came off after a mad scramble in the crease. NHL rules state a goaltender who deliberately removes his helmet will be assessed a two-minute minor penalty.
“Somebody fell on me and then it was all crooked and I tried to fix it and it came off,” Fleury said sheepishly.
2. Something special
While Fleury deservedly was the game’s First Star, the Knights’ special teams deserve mention, too.
Paul Stastny cashed in on a power play in the second period after another beautiful find by rookie Cody Glass. The Penguins had held their past two opponents without a shot on goal on the power play, a span of 126:40.
Later in the second, the unit featuring Glass, Stastny, Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone and Shea Theodore spent an entire two-minute power play in the offensive zone.
“We always kind of have each other’s backs and we’re watching each other,” Stastny said. “Just those little 5-, 6-foot passes are the ones that kind of create a lot of momentum for the rest of the power play.”
Not to be outdone, the Knights’ penalty kill was 4-for-4, including three straight kills in the third period with the game on the line. William Karlsson’s goal with 1:15 remaining was the team’s fourth short-handed, tops in the NHL.
3. Shots fired
The Knights allowed 35 or more shots in four straight games, and Gallant wanted them to “button it up” defensively.
Pittsburgh, which had its five-game win streak halted, finished with 29 shots. Superstar Sidney Crosby was held to two shots and went scoreless for the second straight game after he had a seven-game points streak to start the season.
“We’re taking some good steps, and that’s the key,” Gallant said.