The cleaning crew was making its way into the stands of T-Mobile Arena, the klieg lights had been turned down and Marc-Andre Fleury looked like a kid who had just been told his family was moving to a new town away from all his friends and everything he'd known in life.
Dazed and confused might be a little strong but late on the night of the expansion draft, an hour or so after Fleury had been selected and anointed the face of the Vegas Golden Knights franchise in one fell swoop, the three-time Stanley Cup champion looked a touch diminished in the confidence department.
Fleury is low on swagger to begin with but he does have a quiet way of projecting comfort. He knows who he is and what he can do and he's very at ease with his place in the world and NHL. Somewhere underneath the gentle smile and halting English there is a dragon. A puck snaring, pad kicking, one-timer-defying beast. But that's with the mask down and strapped into position. Every day Fleury, or Flower to everyone who bumps up against him on a regular basis including Golden Knights owner Bill Foley, is amiable and fun loving. The smile may start soft but it explodes into a visage of joy and it arrives with regularity.
Video: Marc-Andre Fleury's drive to T-Mobile Arena
On the night of the expansion draft, however, Fleury was reserved and likely in a slight stage of shock. Pittsburgh had drafted him first overall and developed him into one of hockey's best goalies. And now it was over and he was embarking on an expansion adventure on the Las Vegas strip. Forgive him for having a little "what the hec," in his eyes and his voice. But it didn't last long. In no time, Fleury was a known name in Vegas - the one true superstar with championship pedigree the team had collected in the expansion draft.
Fleury quickly became a leader among the Golden Knights and lived up to his billing winning the first three games of the season and positing a .962 save percentage.
Game 4, however, brought a sudden end to the honeymoon as he was crashed into and suffered a concussion in a 6-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
Now, after missing 25 games, Fleury has returned making his first start since Game 4 of the season. Fleury was his dominant self on Tuesday in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. The rust leaked off him like beads of sweat and by the third period he was back in full form.
Video: CAR@VGK: Fleury turns aside McGinn from in close
Next up: Just the Pittsburgh Penguins. Fleury spent 13 seasons with the Penguins winning those three Cups and cementing relationships with Sidney Crosby et al.
The 33-year-old father of two and sat down with vegasgoldenknights.com earlier in the week to discuss is odyssey from Pittsburgh to Vegas.
Video: Fleury spoke after playing first game since October
VGK.com: So, Pittsburgh is here on Thursday.
MAF: It's going to be weird for sure to see the jersey on the other side of it; my friends and guys I've played with for many years now. Guys I got to see every day. I think it will be a little different. I think on the ice, to play against so many guys I've played with and practiced with a lot. I know a bit of their tendencies. But they know, I know. So, I feel like it can be a little tricky.
VGK.com: Have you had a text or talked to anyone from the Penguins yet? Maybe Sid?
MAF: We've kept in touch throughout the season. They get here a few days before the game and I'm sure I'll have time to meet up with them for lunch or something.
Video: CAR@VGK: Fleury steals a goal from Faulk in the 3rd
VGK.com: What are your best early memories from Pittsburgh?
MAF: I think the draft was something I won't forget; such a memorable day. The day that they told me I was making the team. I think my first game is probably my best memory. It's always been a dream of mine to play in the NHL and to finally do it was pretty amazing. My early years we weren't winning much. That was rough. You learn a lot through it, but it was also tough not winning games.
VGK.com: The team started to get good, what was that like for you personally and the group as a whole?
MAF: Slowly, young guys started coming in and sticking with the team. It's something I'm proud of, the way that we learned together, we stuck together. We had a good bunch of veterans, too. The first time we made the playoffs, we lost in the first round, but that was a good learning experience. The year after we went to the Final with the same guys. The year after we won a Cup together. It was two or three years together to build into a team and learn to win. To finally raise the Cup was great.
VGK.com: What was your first Stanley Cup like?
MAF: It was a little bit surreal. I always dreamed of playing in the NHL, but obviously once you're there and you've won the Cup and you've been the only team left at the end of the year, it's amazing. It just felt surreal out there to be like "we won, we actually got it." It was crazy. It took a few hours to sink in, but it was a lot of fun.
Video: CAR@VGK: Fleury uses his pad to stop Skinner
VGK.com: What did you like about playing in Pittsburgh away from hockey?
MAF: I was there for a while so it felt like home. My family and the people were so kind to us everywhere we went. It was such a great sports town. Everybody cares about their teams; the football team, baseball team, the hockey team. It was fun to be a part of. The atmosphere of the games. I thought it was a great place for me to learn to be a professional and play hockey.
VGK.com: When did you start to think that you would be picked up by Vegas?
MAF: I heard my name out there a bit. I knew Matt Murray had just signed a new deal and he was starting the season right. They couldn't obviously keep both of us. I knew I had to move. I thought everything was intriguing about Vegas. I'm glad I got picked and I'm glad I'm on this team now.
VGK.com: Did you block it out for a little while so you could focus on playing in Pittsburgh?
MAF: I think after the trade deadline that's when I finally relaxed a little more, especially the few weeks before that were a little stressful. There were many rumors about stuff happening. The day of the trade deadline I called my GM and said, "so can I take my nap now," because I was playing that night. He was like "take a nap, you're going to play." I think from there on I felt like I could relax a bit. I had that ease and it was a good finish to the season after.
VGK.com: How special was winning the Cup before you left?
MAF: It was good. I wasn't playing too much then towards the end of the season and Matt got injured. I had a lot of fun. I knew that was it for me in Pittsburgh and I just tried to enjoy every game and every moment with the guys. The crowds were so nice to me, too. It was fun hockey.
VGK.com: How did you feel the night of the Expansion Draft?
Video: Fleury drafted by Golden Knights, gets loud applause
MAF: It was a little crazy. We won, a few days to party and it was pretty much right away that I had to come down and go to the Draft. It felt surreal. It's good to be here, but the welcome the fans gave me that night, I'll always remember that. I saw many guys go in and out of our team. To be the guy leaving now. I had to figure out a house for my family and schools and stuff. But I got here and started to have fun with the team and it wasn't too bad.
VGK.com: Are you surprised at how quickly the team in Vegas has come together?
MAF: For sure. I don't think many people were expecting that from us. Right from the start, we built great chemistry. The guys and the coaches. The way we set ourselves up, the way we play. Guys are working hard every night and every shift. That's what's giving us the chance to be in games all the time.