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Malcolm Subban stands tall when Knights need him most

It was Saturday when Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant shifted course from a previous opinion regarding the workload of a goalie, this time stating he wouldn’t be overly concerned should starter Marc Andre-Fleury play 70 games this season.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen, but I don’t see it being a big deal,” said Gallant. “Guys come to play … As I have told you a number of times, it doesn’t mean we don’t have any confidence in (Malcolm) Subban.”

Twenty-four hours later, the Knights handed their backup his first home start of the season, and the part about confidence probably grew even more.

Subban shook off a less-than-desired beginning and ultimately stood tall in the team’s sixth straight win, this a 3-2 decision against New Jersey before a Sunday afternoon gathering of 18,103 at T-Mobile Arena.

It was during the Knights’ magical expansion year when Gallant said he wouldn’t play one goalie 70 games and another 12 — a concussion to Fleury nixed any such possibility — but then this season arrived and defenseman Nate Schmidt was suspended for the opening 20 games and things were all sorts of shaky to start.

The Knights were chasing in the standings early, meaning it was Fleury in net time and again.

And again and again and again.

And, well, again.

Fleury is on pace to start 69 games, and while that would equal a career high for the 34-year-old, it’s not some sort of implausible phenomenon.

It’s not totally wacko.

Just a little at his age.

Consider: Over the last five NHL seasons, an average of nearly 11 goalies have started at least 60 games, including three of 70 or more in 2014-15.

So even while Fleury is trending toward the high end of such a number, his isn’t some sort of historic amount of work. He leads the league in wins (24) and shutouts (6), but is 21st in save percentage (.912) and ninth in goals against average (2.47).

He isn’t the league’s best goalie, as Gallant offered Saturday, but has certainly been terrific most nights.

It’s still important to get Subban playing time, because the last thing the Knights can do is ride Fleury as they have and then offer any kind of excuse should things not go well in what appears to be another playoff appearance.

Whether it would be due to injury or him simply being worn out, nobody would want to hear it if his workload remains as heavy. Deaf ears at that point.

Subban ‘lights out’

Should he suddenly be asked to do more, Subban’s recent play when given time allows for positive vibes. He allowed two goals on New Jersey’s first five shots Sunday and then stopped 33 straight to earn his second straight win after five losses to open the season.

He stopped all 20 shots in the third period, despite New Jersey having a man advantage for the final 3:22, the last 1:02 because Ryan Reaves went to the box for delay of game after taking aim at an empty net and shooting it across the ice and over the glass as if he was trying to hit City National Arena.

“I thought (Subban) was lights out,” said Knights forward Alex Tuch. “At the start, we gave New Jersey a few Grade A (chances) and they were able to capitalize. But his ability to respond and have some really big saves down the stretch were huge. (Subban) played really, really well.”

He did, and the Knights are rolling, tied with Calgary atop the Pacific Division and, along with the Flames and Maple Leafs, sitting at 56 points. Only the Lightning (66), who seem to lose once every few weeks, have more.

The last time Subban started at home was March 30 against St. Louis, and the assumption is he will return to his customary place on the bench when the Rangers visit Tuesday.

But he stood tall Sunday, especially during the last-minute chaos and Reaves firing at an empty net as if he were trying to hit Reno.

“It felt good, obviously, any time you can win at home,” Subban said. “We were definitely the better team most of the game, so I think we deserved this one. A tough start with a couple goals (allowed), but the boys rallied back. I can’t complain. Just focus and play a full 60-minute game. I was excited to get back in front of our home fans.”

He doesn’t see them much.

At least not from the ice.

More Golden Knights: Follow online at reviewjournal.com/GoldenKnights and @HockeyinVegas on Twitter.

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 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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