Golden Knights play on as Marc-Andre Fleury continues to heal

Updated November 29, 2017 - 8:22 am

It is the command center for our nervous system, all those billions of cells arranged in patterns that coordinate things like thought and emotion and behavior and movement and sensation.

Do you know something else about the human brain?

When damaged, it doesn’t take kindly to deadlines.

Despite countless years of research into the consequences of head impacts and concussions in athletes, science and its varying tests on all those unsuspecting mice has only told us so much.

But we know this: Everyone reacts differently in terms of recovery, including a world-class hockey goalie.

Marc-Andre Fleury remains on injured reserve for the Golden Knights, off the ice since an Oct. 13 home game against Detroit, during which he took a knee to the head from Anthony Mantha of the Red Wings.

Fleury turned 33 on Tuesday, when his team lost 3-0 to Dallas at T-Mobile Arena, the same Stars side he was so impressive against in a season-opening victory.

“He won that game for us,” coach Gerard Gallant said.

The days and weeks and (almost) months have passed since Fleury was injured with little to no information of depth having surfaced as to his return, the care and attention toward a player who dealt with concussion issues in Pittsburgh obviously reaching foremost levels.

As frustrating as it is for fans to hear, he will be back when he’s back.

He will return when he has thoroughly passed all cognitive tests, when his brain agrees it’s time.

“There is no such thing as a mild concussion,” general manager George McPhee said. “A concussion is a concussion, and players are much more cognizant of this type of injury now, as we all are. It’s important that (Fleury) is 100 percent for right now and for 15 years from now.”

Here’s the part nobody predicted: In the absence of by far the most well-known and accomplished player selected in the expansion draft, the Knights have emerged the story of the NHL. They are tied with Los Angeles atop the Pacific Division, a major reason being those in net have more than produced in the spot Fleury was expected to man all season.

McPhee credits most goalie coach David Prior for things not falling totally apart when Fleury and then backup Malcolm Subban went down, when the Knights were forced to play Oscar Dansk and Maxime Lagace, when a 19-year old entry-level kid in Dylan Ferguson was even up for a time.

But you can’t discount the fact McPhee didn’t overreact and risk losing assets in Fleury’s absence by trying to make some huge deal, that he instead remained loyal to his belief that says you stay within the organization and allow your own to succeed or fail.

“It’s not easy, because you feel naked when you lose your top two goalies,” McPhee said. “Of course, you’re nervous about it, but why go outside when you can give your guys a chance?

It’s not as if the Knights don’t need Fleury. They do. Subban is back, but the season is just 23 games old.

The team has done a lot on one hand and really nothing on another. It’s beyond early.

Fleury, along with his three Stanley Cup championship rings, was introduced as the final expansion pick for a reason, immediately anointed the face of a new franchise. But a funny thing happened on the way to one man, one player, assuming such a prominent role. The Knights became a team of many faces.

There isn’t one guy in the room. There are several, and as competitive as Fleury is — he tried getting back on the ice just days after being whacked in the head — the fact his team has done so well allows him to be even more diligent in recovery.

“He needs to take all the time he needs to heal and be 150 percent when he comes back, to be healthy for himself and his family,” said defenseman Deryk Engelland, who played with Fleury in Pittsburgh. “However long it takes. We’ll be better for it when he’s back. He’s a great teammate and person, a great guy on the ice and in the locker room. His personality is contagious.”

You have to believe that with a wife and two young daughters, having celebrated another birthday north of 30, this being his 14th NHL season, Fleury during this time has thought long and hard about the future.

About the fact that recovering from this concussion has taken longer than the two he suffered with the Penguins.

About life with hockey and, perhaps more important, without it.

“We drafted Marc-Andre because he’s a good goalie,” McPhee said. “He brought a name and some cachet and Stanley Cup experience we like to have in the room. That was important. But we got him because he’s a good goalie who can take us places.”

He still can. The only question is when that journey will restart.

Could be soon. Could still be a while.

Could be a week. Could be a month.

His brain will decide, and that means there is no such thing as a fixed deadline.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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