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Fleury perfect fit for Golden Knights, no joke

Goalie helps keep teammates loose off ice, successful on it

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

LAS VEGAS -- On Oct. 5, the day before the Vegas Golden Knights played at the Dallas Stars in the first game in franchise history, Marc-Andre Fleury, David Perron and Jonathan Marchessault were hanging out in Marchessault's hotel room.

"All right," Fleury said as Perron and Marchessault played cards. "See you guys."

A few minutes later, Perron went to the bathroom and found Fleury hadn't left yet.

Quietly, secretly, Fleury was, um, fixing the plumbing. Perron had played with Fleury before with the Pittsburgh Penguins and knew what was going on, so he went back to the card game without a word, Marchessault none the wiser.

 

[RELATED: Neal has Golden Knights flying to begin inaugural season]

 

Days later, Marchessault was asked if he had a minor problem with his toilet in Dallas.

"Yeah. It was leaking."

"Do you know why?"

"No. Why?"

"You have no idea?"

"No idea."

Fleury smiled. Shhh …

"I'm still undercover on this team," Fleury said. "Guys don't know me yet."

Oh, they'll know him soon, regardless of this column. Fleury loves to have fun; his teammates will love him for it as they did in Pittsburgh. If he makes a guy sop up water with some towels as part of a practical joke, well, doesn't he clean up his teammates' messes on the ice all the time?

"Just a funny guy," Perron said. "He likes to do little pranks."

We're already seeing why Fleury is the perfect goaltender for the Golden Knights in so many ways.

Video: ARI@VGK: Fleury flashes the leather on Stepan

He wants to play a lot. He thrives when he sees a lot of shots, sometimes yelling when he makes saves like a skater does when he scores goals, never staring down or showing up his teammates.

Though he lost his No. 1 job in Pittsburgh to Matt Murray, he's still capable of being a No. 1 goaltender at age 32 and giving his team a chance to win most every night.

That's a good combination for an expansion team. It allowed the Golden Knights to claim Malcom Subban off waivers from the Boston Bruins and trade backup Calvin Pickard to the Toronto Maple Leafs last week. They think Subban isn't as good as Pickard in the short term but can be better than Pickard in the long term, a No. 1 someday. They haven't played Subban and want him to work on some things. In the interim, Fleury's got it.

Fleury was first star of the Golden Knights' first win, making 45 saves in the 2-1 victory against the Stars on Friday.

"That's the type of games that he's really good at," Perron said. "He likes when there's action. He likes when there's emotion in the game. And I think there was a lot of emotion for him and for us too, but probably even more so for him. He's happy to find the net back to him basically as a No. 1 guy."

Video: VGK@DAL: Fleury shuts down Benn, Seguin in the 2nd

Fleury played the next night at the Arizona Coyotes and made 27 saves in a 2-1 overtime win. He made 31 saves in a 5-2 win against the Coyotes in their inaugural home opener Tuesday.

He's 3-0-0 with a 1.32 goals-against average and .963 save percentage. Not a bad start, eh?

But his attitude might be even more important. This is an expansion team trying to establish a culture. The Golden Knights almost certainly will struggle at times. Fleury takes his job seriously but not himself. He puts his teammates at ease and makes the rink an enjoyable place to be.

Listen to these quotes:

"We know he's putting in the effort," Perron said. "In practice he works hard. He's been in the League for so many years, but he still works as if he's 21 years old."

"It's fun on the ice with him," Marchessault said. "He's a competitive guy. So if you yell at him when you score, he gets mad. Same when he saves me and stuff like that. I love it, actually. It's healthy. It brings momentum and joy to the rink, and everybody has a smile and jokes around."

Video: VKG@ARI: Fleury blockers away Domi's wrister

"It almost gives you some confidence too when he's hooting and hollering back there and having fun and he's feeling it," said defenseman Deryk Engelland, who also played with Fleury in Pittsburgh. "It's good to see. It just rubs off on everyone. … You know he's got your back if there is a breakdown. You're going to battle for him too."

"He likes to keep the mood light," Perron said. "If the guys are nervous, he makes sure they're going to be calm. At the same time, he provides energy like he's a No. 1 guy. He's an older guy who's been around. But in practice, you'll shoot high on him, might hit him in the mask, and he brushes it off like nothing happened. He doesn't yell at you or anything. He's always impressed me the kind of teammate he is."

After the Golden Knights' overtime win at Arizona, the players mobbed the goal-scorer, forward James Neal. Fleury made sure to grab the puck. Neal scored both goals in their first win but didn't get to keep either puck because they went to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Fleury flipped this one to Neal in the dressing room.

Asked about it, Fleury was sheepish. Shhh …

"Yeah, I saw it there, so old habits I guess," he said. "Keep the winning puck."

Keep it up, Marc-Andre.

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