The Minnesota Wild accomplished what they set out for when departing MSP Airport late last week, for Sin City. They split the two-game road mini-series against the Golden Knights by winning game one on Sunday, in OT fashion (1-0), before falling 3-1 late-Tuesday, in the business trip finale. Both matchups were competitive to the end but one person has stood
out on his head. Vegas’ future HOF goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, has been the early star of this series.
Yesterday, I wrote about replacing Marcus Johansson with Zach Parise or Matt Boldy, in hopes of solving the Fleury puzzle. Fiala needs more help on the second line and Boldy could certainly offer that with an injection of playmaking ability on the other wing. Parise, though, could have offered a frustrating presence in front of Fleury’s net, which the Wild need more of in general (more on that later).
But instead, it looks like Guerin and Evason will roll the same lines in game three as they did in games one and two.
This isn’t surprising. Billy and Deano could care less what you or I think. They’re going to play Marcus Johansson now just like they continued to play Victor Rask earlier this season when he was continually riding the struggle bus. Their stubbornness has worked out to this point so I’m just going to hope it continues. At the end of the day, the Wild have outplayed the Vegas Golden Knights through two games and they’re sitting in great position after stealing one game on the road.
Still, they need to figure out how to get to Marc-Andre Fleury.
Fighting through the Fleury
In game one, Wild goalie Cam Talbot saved more shots than Fleury, but it was the Vegas net-minder who stopped the best scoring chances. In game two on Tuesday, however, the future Hall of Famer had to work even harder to keep his team ahead. The Wild hurled 35 shots at 37-year-old, which was seven more than what the Knights could muster at Talbot, many of them grade-A opportunities. But it didn’t matter.
The numbers support Fleury’s dominance so far this series. He currently leads all playoff goalies in save percentage (.969) and goals against average (0.98). He’s also leading in goals saved above expected with an absurd 3.4, according to MoneyPuck.com. Cam Talbot comes in 2nd at 2.3. That 1.1 difference is a massive margin.
#MNWILD lose game 2 because of stellar goaltending from Fleury (2.74 goals saved above expected)— Aaron Heckmann (@aaron_heckmann) May 19, 2021
Wild had edge in Corsi, scoring chances, high-danger chances & expected goals at 5-on-5
I’d like to see Parise in for game 3
Wild deserved to win by a decisive margin | MoneyPuck pic.twitter.com/aNBCMtPHbP
vegas takes game two 3-1, draws the series even.
the knights were very lucky, the wild dominated the chances and kevin fiala was a man possessed while dragging his linemates around.
splitting the vgk home games is extremely good though.
(charts via @EvolvingHockey) pic.twitter.com/uEJi3o5wZX— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) May 19, 2021
So, how do we solve the Fleury puzzle?
Well, let’s start by shooting blocker-side, instead of glove-side. Ryan Hartman said after game one that Fleury “almost baits you” to shoot glove-side. After robbing Hartman many times with that glove, it’s clear why.
He want’s you to shoot there, just like Deion Sanders wanted quarterbacks to throw to those receivers they thought were open. They weren’t, and neither is the glove side on Marc-Andre Fleury. Don’t take the bait anymore. Shoot blocker-side.
There, that’s the easier one. The more difficult task could be longer lasting and more effective, if executed properly. The Wild forwards need to rattle Marc-Andre Fleury. There was a time (not that long ago) when Fleury was seen as much more of a playoff detriment to the Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup runs, than he was an asset.
Even after Fleury won cups, he was seen as a playoff choke artist across the NHL. It was easy to get in his head and he’d easily lose focus. And when he was bad… he was really bad. In 2013, SB Nation called him the worst playoff goalie in the NHL and had numbers to back it up.
A year later, the articles weren’t any nicer.
It seems like Marc-Andre Fleury is settling nicely into his role as “That Goalie Who Really Sucks In The Playoffs.” His latest audition came Tuesday night in Game 4 against the New York Islanders.
It’s safe to say that Marc-Andre Fleury is the worst playoff goalie in the NHL right now. (Yes, even worse than his Pennsylvania counterparts over in Philadelphia.) The numbers back it up, the hilarious GIFs back it up, and who knows? Should Pittsburgh lose this series to the Isles, a Ray Shero roster move might even back it up.Justin Aller – SB Nation (May 8, 2013)
Last year, after he gave up 17 goals in five games and got pulled from the playoff starter role, I wrote that the Penguins should strongly consider buying him out. They didn’t, and we were told that he’d gotten his head on straight thanks to a sports psychologist, and he’d get a new goalie coach, and he was still young enough to get this all straightened out sufficiently. The evidence is now pretty sufficient that this is, in fact, not the case. Whatever plagues him when he gets to the postseason is still there.
Again, anyone could have predicted this. You didn’t need some advanced hockey insight to say, “Marc-Andre Fleury? Yeah he’s gonna be terrible in the playoffs, just like every year.” You didn’t need assurances he’d be fine this time around, because you knew, in your heart of hearts, that he of course would not be.Ryan Lambert – Yahoo Sports (Apr 25, 2014)
Vegas fans and media have even blamed Fleury for their playoff losses, in more recent seasons. This dude isn’t some life-long impenetrable playoff wall. The Minnesota Wild just need to get into his crease and rattle him a little bit. Let’s see if we can bring out that mental midget. The past tells us he’s in there somewhere…
Also, shoot blocker-side.
Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan