He squinted into a sea of cameras and unfamiliar faces that night, the continuation of a whirlwind in which he hadn’t a clue when it might subside.
Do you remember how it occurred, that nearing the conclusion of the NHL Awards/Expansion Draft in June 2017 at T-Mobile Arena, an emotional and authentic and thunderous reaction followed the selection of the final player for the Golden Knights.
“I’m a pretty reserved person,” Marc-Andre Fleury said when recalling the moment. “I’m not too much into being the face of anything. I just did what they told me to do that night and tried to embrace it.
“I didn’t know if people in Vegas even liked hockey or would come to games. I had only been here once before (as a tourist). Right now, it’s funny to even think about. But back then, I really didn’t know how things would work out. I never imagined it would be this way.”
A reminder comes each time the Knights play Pittsburgh, as they did Tuesday night at T-Mobile, Fleury again in the opposite net of the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2003 and with whom he won three Stanley Cups.
The Knights would see their four-game win streak snapped in a 4-3 loss, and yet it’s impossible to summarize in one game Fleury’s influence on the city where he spent much of his career and the one he has made such a remarkable impact on in such a short time.
He knew change was coming that final season in Pittsburgh, Fleury having been beaten out by Matt Murray and all NHL eyes pointed toward Las Vegas, where an expansion team was on its way and a veteran goalie with $11.5 million remaining on his contract, however popular, was sure to be exposed.
“We had the young goalie, and I was getting older,” Fleury said. “I was following the (Vegas story) and had a feeling this is how it would work out. I could just tell it would be the option.
“We stayed in Pittsburgh for so many years and had really good friends on the team and with our neighbors. But to come to Vegas, which was the unknown, it couldn’t have worked out better. Our kids love it. My wife loves it.”
Entering Tuesday’s game, he had been 3-1 against his former team with a 2.26 goals-against average, .930 save percentage and one shutout.
But it was the second straight game Vegas faced a 3-0 deficit, the Knights having rallied for the first time in franchise history from such a hole to beat St. Louis 5-4 in overtime Saturday.
This also was Fleury’s fifth straight start, over which he has allowed 15 goals.
The four on Tuesday came via just 16 shots, and while he could have been much sharper, costly turnovers and shoddy play from some blue liners (see Schmidt, Nate) didn’t help.
The Knights next host the last-place Los Angeles Kings on Thursday.
It’s time for backup goalie Malcolm Subban to receive his next start.
Fleury’s numbers this season — he ranks 25th in the NHL in goals allowed at 2.84 and has a .908 save percentage — are all sorts of average. He, as much as anyone else, needs the All-Star break and following off week to rest.
He looks exhausted.
Fleury will turn 36 during next season and has two years remaining on an extension the Knights signed him to in July 2018. If it has been challenging in the net at times this season, the emotional stress of recently losing his father has made it an even more trying time.
“He didn’t know much about Vegas, had never been here at the time of the (expansion draft), but knew it was a chance for me to play because I wasn’t much at the end in Pittsburgh,” Fleury said of his father. “He just said to have fun and do my best to help the team.
“I know the end of my (career) is coming sooner than later. Feels a lot closer. What’s the saying — there is a lot more behind me than in front. I know that. I try to make the best out of every day.”
Pittsburgh was the opponent Tuesday, meaning memories come rushing back about how in fewer than three years, the man behind a mask has become one of the most popular athletes in Las Vegas history.
He never wanted to be the face.
The town had other ideas.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.