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  • How Much Can the Wild Lean On Marc-Andre Fleury Down the Stretch?

    Image courtesy of Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
    Luke Sims


    At the start of the season, the Minnesota Wild’s goaltending duo had cratered into the center of the earth. Marc-Andre Fleury and Filip Gustavsson were among the worst goalies in the NHL through the first few weeks of the season. While Fleury has positively regressed toward the middle of the pack and has been good lately, we can't say the same for Gustavsson. The Swede has had a tumultuous season after signing a three-year extension this summer. 

    The Wild have also been slowly climbing back into the playoff picture. They won five of six games before losing in Winnipeg and are two points out of a spot. Minnesota may have gotten hot at the right time to sneak into the playoffs. Led by a new top line of Kirill Kaprizov, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Matt Boldy, the Wild have a legitimate shot at being one of the 16 teams playing playoff hockey. 

    With Fleury assuming the reins as the Wild’s de facto starting goalie, how much can the Wild count on a 39-year-old backstopper to propel them in their final stretch and the playoffs? 

    Time is on Fleury’s side while also not being on his side. Fleury has only played in 27 games this year and projects to start 40 to 45 by the end of the year. That is good news for Fleury and the Wild; most teams have a 1a and a 1b goalie situation where the starters play 50 to 60 games in a season. With the way that this season has shaken out, Fleury won’t have as many miles on him this season but still has a plethora of miles on him from his 39 years of life. 

    If we look at the recent Wild history, results would suggest that playing Fleury would be a mistake. In Minnesota’s postseason series last year, the Dallas Stars shredded Fleury for seven goals after a herculean effort from Gustavsson to steal Game 1 of the series. That game was pivotal, and Dallas swung momentum back their way as the two squads headed to St. Paul. 

    In that series, Fleury displayed an 82.92 save percentage (SV%), an expected goals against 4.38 (xGA), and a goals saved above expected (GSAA) of -3.02. Fleury only made two appearances and played poorly. 

    However, the future Hall of Famer has slowly worked his way back into form this season. Over the past month, Fleury has been almost exactly average. Recording a .900 SV% and a -0.49 GSAA. In what is most likely the last of his historic seasons, that’s not a terrible stat line, considering the defense playing in front of him. The Wild’s defensive group outside Brock Faber and Jonas Brodin is less than inspiring. 

    The Wild’s offense has dragged them back into the playoff hunt. The newfound  Boldy, Ek, and Kaprizov line have the Wild potting pucks at the sixth-best rate in the league over the past month. But at nearly 3.75 goals per hour, Minnesota’s goaltending has not had to be elite over the last month. 

    Even with this offensive upswing, the Wild will still need steady goaltending to be competitive in the playoffs. Fleury would be the oldest goaltender in the postseason. How have these older goalies performed recently? 

    Now, there’s no guarantee that the Wild will make the playoffs, but with the momentum they have and for the sake of this hypothetical, let’s assume they do. What does history tell us about riding old goalies into and in the playoffs? 

    Tim Thomas’ historic Conn Smythe run with the Boston Bruins during the 2010-11 season is the most obvious example. Thomas was 37 and became the oldest player to win MVP during the postseason. Thomas’ playoff run is as good as any goalie 32 or over has played in the past 15 years. Thomas’s GSAA is nearly 14 more than any other goalie, with a ridiculous 20.24.

    Thomas’ regular season was a precursor to his success in the playoffs. He started 57 games for the Bruins and recorded arguably the greatest season by a goaltender ever. His GSAA of 43.07 is the best we’ve seen over the last 20 years. The NHL tends to play goalies in as many games these days. But if your last name is Vasilevskiy or Hellebuyck, you may have your team rely on you like mid-2010s Wild teams dependent on Devan Dubnyk

    But Thomas isn’t the only older goalie to get it done in the playoffs. In 2016-17, Pekka Rinne recorded a 93.04 SV% en route to leading the Nashville Predators to the Stanley Cup Final. Rinne was 34 during this playoff streak. He most likely would have been the Conn Smythe winner if Nashville had won it all that summer. That was after a regular season where he took home the Vezina trophy for the league's top goaltender. 

    The Pittsburgh Penguins beat Nashville that year, but Fleury was the backup to Matt Murray. The Vegas Golden Knights claimed Fleury the following year, and he went on a playoff run as Vegas’ starter. 

    Fleury was 33 during his first year in Vegas when the expansion Knights made a miracle run to the Cup Final. Fleury recorded an outstanding 8.49 GSAA to complement his 92.5 save percentage. Playing in a tight defensive structure also anchored the Knights’ run. Still, there was no doubt Fleury stood on his head to help Vegas achieve glory in their first season. 

    Fleury’s status as a hockey legend would inspire some to believe he could return to the high-end play of his glory days. But the track record of other NHL legends doesn’t suggest that will be the case. 

    NHL Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur is in the conversation for the best goalies of all time. During his age-38 season, the 2011-12 season, Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils lost the Cup to the Los Angeles Kings in six games. Brodeur wasn’t at his best, owning a 91.8 SV% and a negative -2.1 GSAA. New Jersey had a better roster than this year’s Wild team, which can help to cover for average goalie play. But the signs were there during the regular season. 

    Brodeur was even worse during the final stretch of the season and throughout the regular season. Brodeur played almost 60 games and recorded a -10.21 GSAA and a measly .907 SV%. That’s a lot of games for a goalie to play and then perform well in the playoffs. 

    While Fleury could return to his old form, I wouldn’t bet on it. Fleury would be the oldest goaltender in the playoffs, and with the lack of high-end defensemen ahead of him, he’ll largely be on his own. The lack of games started is a plus for Flower, but that’s a stat in a vacuum because he’ll have the most games started of any goalie in the postseason. 

    Fleury is due for a signature moment every once in a while. But don’t count on him being a consistent goalie who gives the Wild a chance to win even if they don’t put forth their best effort.

    All stats and data via HockeyDB, Evolving Hockey, and NHL.com unless otherwise noted.


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    Wild goaltending is good overall VS. bad. Weird though. Fleury is a 1A tendy. Gustavsson could be too. Stopping 40+ against EDM who are hot is outstanding. 

    Trouble is, sometimes both guys who are capable and proven, have off-games. 

    The Wild need zero bad games to make up ground. MN will have to lean on anyone between the pipes. If the Wild are gonna get into the playoffs, let alone go deeper than Rd.1, the goalies are gonna need to be equally great.

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    The Wild have been identified as an inconsistent team throughout most of their lineup. It’s clear that includes goaltenders. To make the playoffs and have any impact at all they need to #1 Stay out of the penalty box #2 no soft goals in close games #3 get and stay healthy. Best case scenario is Gus gets hot and starts stealing games. MAF plays well when called upon. 

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    Red Wings smoke the Blues 6-1 today, so if we can crack the Kraken tonight we are tied with the Blues and Preds, Blues will have a game in hand, Preds play Sharks tonight to even games played with us.

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    21 hours ago, Sviginak said:

    Red Wings smoke the Blues 6-1 today, so if we can crack the Kraken tonight we are tied with the Blues and Preds, Blues will have a game in hand, Preds play Sharks tonight to even games played with us.

    Predators have gotten hot on a road trip(4-0 so far), following an awful home stand(1-3, outscored 21-11) where the only team they beat was Arizona.

    Predators last 4 games are road wins at St. Louis, Vegas, LA, and San Jose. They close that road trip in Anaheim tonight. If Wild will be in Nashville Feb 29.

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    There are essentially 5 teams vying for that last Western Wild Card spot, with the Wild smack in the middle of the pack:

    • Predators: 64 pts in 58 games (.552)
    • Blues: 62 pts in 57 games (.544)
    • Wild: 62 pts in 58 games (.534)
    • Flames: 61 pts in 58 games (.526)
    • Kraken: 59 pts in 57 games (.518)

    Each team has 4-6 games leading up to the Trade Deadline (March 8th at 2pm), which hopefully pushes the teams apart a bit more:

    • Predators: 
      • Ducks (.377), Senators (.482), Wild (.534), Avalanche (.636), Canadiens (.448), and Sabres (.491)
      • Opponents Average (.495)
    • Blues: 
      • Jets (.682), Oilers (.618), Wild (.534), Flyers (.578), Islanders (.526), and Devils (.534)
      • Opponents Average (.578)
    • Wild:
      • Hurricanes (.640), Predators (.552), Blues (.544), Sharks (.313), and Coyotes (.446)
      • Opponents Average (.499)
    • Flames:
      • Kings (.607), Penguins (.537), Kraken (.518), and Lightning (.575)
      • Opponents' Average (.559)
    • Kraken:
      • Bruins (.686), Penguins (.537), Oilers (.618), Flames (.526), and Jets (.682)
      • Opponents Average (.609)

    The Wild and the Preds have the easiest of the schedules with their opponents' average below .500, so I imagine those two teams to potentially be leading the pack by the Trade Deadline for the last spot. Each team on this list also have a significant player in trade rumors, which could potentially help the Wild's chances too:

    • Predators: Alexandre Carrier, Juuse Saros and Tyson Barrie
    • Blues: Pavel Buchnevich and Kasperi Kapanen
    • Flames: Noah Hanifin, Chris Tanev and Jacob Markström
    • Kraken: Jordan Eberle, Alex Wennberg and Tomas Tatar

    Two most important games this week are obviously against the other two teams on the list (Preds + Blues).

    Edited by WheelSnipeCelly
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    A win against Carolina, or even a loser point overachieves where we needed to be before facing the Preds and Blues. These games are must wins, but we got through our gauntlet in pretty good shape. 

    I believe we have a more talented squad than both these teams, and the March schedule should allow us to gain ground and enter April in the 8 spot if not catching LA. 

    That said, and in reference to this article, I would favor a full goalie tandem going forward. Both goalies have been really good at times and not very good at times. I think in the Vancouver-Winnipeg b2b, they probably should have reversed the 'tenders in hindsight.

    So, for me, even with Fleury, I think I'd keep getting him stretched out. I think I'd leave him in the locker room at times to stay stretched out, because a quick hook would be my strategy. You've got to play the guy who's going to be hot that night, and sometimes that means calling to the bullpen. Plus, doing that is like getting an extra timeout. I am also not opposed to switching a goalie in and keeping the pulled goalie stretched out and putting him back in later when his head clears. 

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