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August 18, 2019

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Marc-Andre Fleury looks primed for season after shutting out Kings

Golden Knights’ goalie gets animated in preseason debut

Knights Fall to Senators 5-4

Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau

Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) stretches during a break in action against the Ottawa Senators during their NHL hockey game Friday, March 2, 2018, at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Ottawa won the game 5-4.

Marc-Andre Fleury lunged out to poke away a pair of shots, congratulated the crossbar after it deflected a puck and rifled several dangerous passes while he was out of the crease.

That’s just a short list of the exploits pulled off by the Vegas Golden Knights’ starting goalie Friday night at T-Mobile Arena, a 2-0 preseason win over the Los Angeles Kings. Fleury acted with as much nonchalance as many of the weekend revelers sprawled out in their seats with beers in hand as part of a preseason record 17,928 fans.

“You’ve got to try it all,” Fleury said with a smirk. “It’s preseason — see what works.”

Fleury delivered a vintage performance in his 2018-19 season debut to improve the Golden Knights to 5-1 in the preseason and give them a sixth straight win, including playoffs and preseason, over the rival Kings. Nothing could be a better sign for the Vegas faithful.

A lot went right to enable the Golden Knights to win the Western Conference championship in their inaugural season, but it all started with Fleury. The former Pittsburgh Penguins star had a career year with a .927 save percentage, which boosted to a historic .947 through the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With Fleury entering his 14th NHL season and turning 34 years old next month, it’s natural to wonder whether he can keep up the same pace when the Golden Knights may need it the most. They figure not to be as strong defensively to start the year with Nate Schmidt serving a 20-game suspension and Shea Theodore having just arrived after prolonged contract negotiations.

Fleury looked up to the task against the Kings, stopping all 26 shots on goal including a handful in spectacular fashion. He cautioned that one preseason performance doesn’t mean he’s in midseason form, but admitted he was enthused with where he’s started.

“He’s incredible,” Theodore said of Fleury. “Watching him make those saves — one, I think he made with the back of his leg diving across. I don’t know how he stays in game shape like that.”

The same could be asked of Theodore himself. The third-year defenseman who just rejoined the team three days ago played just short of 21 minutes, the third-most on the team.

His ice time was productive, as Theodore got an assist on the Golden Knights’ first goal early in the second period when he started a sequence that ended with the also-debuting Ryan Reaves tipping the puck past Jack Campbell. In the first period, Theodore likely saved a goal as he blocked an open shot from the Kings’ Nate Thompson.

That effectively ended the second of five Los Angeles power plays on the night. Vegas didn’t make it easy on Fleury.

“It was a messy game and I don’t think anyone played really well,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. “The execution wasn’t good for our team … I didn’t take a lot out of it.”

The Golden Knights managed 30 shots on goal, and many of them were more high-percentage looks than the Kings’ attempts, but Campbell racked up 28 saves. Vegas’ second goal came on an empty net, as Brayden McNabb flung a shot from the defensive zone with 2 seconds remaining.

That came shortly after Fleury tried to score his first career goal — he said he had never scored in any level of hockey competition — after withstanding some pressure from the Kings.

“It wasn’t hard enough but it’s worth a try,” he said. “It would be nice to get a goal someday.”

Fleury laughed after scouting his shot, and as long as Fleury is laughing, then fortune figures to be smiling on the Golden Knights.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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