So I could have talked about my Capitals again, except after an overtime [make that, double overtime!!!] win and avoiding further embarrassment to this city’s history. But that’s a story for another time because we actually have someone pull off the sweep. And it was from the expansion team that everyone wants to talk about except me, because the Capitals ruined their Championship window by letting Nate Schmidt play for them. Yes, my friends, this is the Las Vegas Golden Knights I’m talking about and they did a number over the two-time Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings last night.
Even if I don’t want to talk about this team, being a Florida Panthers fan watching Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith light it up with their skill along the top line every single night has to be pure torture. If those two were to stay and add to what Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Evgeni Dadonov and Vincent Trochek had done this season, just imagine how good that team would have been! That’s why I wasn’t as pessimistic as others when it came to predicting where Vegas would have finished this coming season. I still stand by the fact that the Pacific Division was by far the worst division in the NHL because it was full of either stale and decaying franchises or teams run by some of the most ignorant front offices imaginable. Because of those two things alone, Vegas should have been able to get enough free points left, right, and center that would prop them just enough to avoid being a lottery team. What I did not expect from them is to be 109-points-in-the-standings-level good with their PDO not being able to mask any deficiencies.
And while Vegas was only able to score seven goals in four games against the Los Angeles Kings this series, that was enough to pull off the clean sweep. Simply put, Marc-Andre Fleury was incredible and he was the sole reason Vegas is now in the second round of these playoffs. Along with that, naming anyone else in the conversation in the Conn Smythe voting at this point is a waste of any human being’s time. This was a goaltender that was dead and burried. Even if he became the starting netminder for the Golden Knights, the now 33-year old has no business playing this well after what he has gone through throughout his entire career. Like I did with Rinne yesterday, let’s break down “Flower’s” career:
2003-04 to 2008-09:
- Regular Season: 235 games, 90.7% save percentage, 56.4% quality start percentage, 0.190 point shares per hour
- Playoffs: 49 games, 91.6% save percentage, 54.5% quality start percentage*
2009-10 to 2013-14:
- Regular Season: 296 games, 91.3% save percentage, 52.8% quality start percentage, 0.171 point shares per hour
- Playoffs: 31 games, 88.0% save percentage, 29.0% quality start percentage
2014-15 to 2016-17:
- Regular Season: 160 games, 91.8% save percentage, 53.8% quality start percentage, 0.190 points shares per hour
- Playoffs: 35 games, 92.0% save percentage, 48.6% quality start percentage
- Regular Season: 46 games, 92.7% save percentage, 67.4% quality start percentage, 0.222 point shares per hour
- Playoffs: 4 games, 97.7% save percentage, ONE-HUNDRED-PERCENT quality start percentage
* quality start percentage numbers were only taken into account from the 2005-06 to 2008-09 seasons
Sure, you could argue that Fleury became a better puck-stopper as the years rolled by based off of saver percentage alone, but it is important to remember that the standard of goaltending has gradually increased while Fleury has been in the league. That is why statistics like point share rate (how total point shares are calculated can be found on hockey-reference.com) and quality start percentage are taken into account because they can measure how well a goaltender has performed over a game-by-game basis. To put things in perspective, league average for point share rate is roughly 0.180-0.185 per hour every season while about 53% is the cutoff for quality start percentage.
Basically, Marc-Andre Fleury was a good, but not great goaltender when he came into the NHL. Then every flaw imaginable of his game was exposed during his late 20s: a time in which you would think that any athlete, let alone goaltenders, should be hitting the primes of their careers. But with that hypothesized 350-game threshold that seems to stop goaltenders’ careers in their tracks being surpassed early on, this could have been the time where the wear and tear got to Fleury, just like it has to Braden Holtby this year, and the likes of Ilya Bryzgalov, Jonas Hiller and many more previously. That theory is certainly a discussion for another time. Then, Fleury did rebound a small bit once he turned 30, but it was not enough for him to lose his starting job in Pittsburgh. This season, welp, you can find any articles on the internet and in print about what type of resurgence he’s having.
Now the one thing I will note here is that Fleury’s concussion issues this season have only limited him to 46 games. The only other time Fleury was able to rack up a season where he had over 60% of his starts reach quality status and over 0.2 point shares per hour, measurements that would consider you world-class, was in 2007-08. That season, Fleury guided the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup final in the Sidney Crosby era, but that was only after playing 35 games due to a nasty ankle injury. So is this something where his odometer will have to be measured carefully from here on out? I’m no expert on this matter, but I also don’t these facts should be ignored completely either.
Eventually, more will be discussed about Vegas’ skaters, and they will have to take their game up another level if they are to better a San Jose side that really has the bit between their teeth (no pun intended) and show that 2015-16’s playoff run was not a fluke. Until then, let’s embrace what kind of a run Fleury has. At the very least, he has had one of the most interesting careers a goaltender has had for his generation and it is incredible to see how his longevity has continued in spite of his past tribulations.
One last thing: let’s not ignore Jonathan Quick’s contributions this series. Simply put, the Kings not only need to get back to the drawing board with their roster, but they might have to consider firing John Stevens within the first year of his tenure if they really want to put their best foot forward for the rest of the Kopitar-Doughty-Brown era. I simply don’t like how Los Angeles is deviating towards what got them to two Stanley Cups and they no where near have the young legs that can allow them to play the expansive system that Stevens wants to coach.
But while all that chaos has ensued, Quick ended putting up his best season in years. Not only was he brilliant in the playoffs, but his regular season numbers read as this:
64 games, 92.1% save percentage, 58.7% quality start percentage, 0.199 point shares per hour
Every one of those numbers have never been that good since 2011-12: the year the Kings won the Stanley Cup and Quick won the Conn Smythe, finished second in Vezina Trophy voting and finished fifth in Hart trophy voting. In some ways, Quick is the Western Conference’s answer to Fleury over the years when you consider his climb to the top (0.180 point shares per hour in 249 games from ’07-’08 to ’11-’12), his fall from grace (0.161 point shares per hour in 243 games from ’13-’14 to ’16-’17) and his resurrection. With 556 career games now under his belt, I’ll be curious to see where the rest of his tenure goes because Los Angeles may need him more than ever in the future.