At 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 16, the Penguins will face Marc-Andre Fleury for the first time in his newly-stitched Chicago Blackhawks sweater.
Pittsburgh is no stranger to battles with its former netminder— although the team didn’t see him in a division-divided 2020-21 bubble, the Penguins have battled Fleury five times since his selection in the 2017 expansion draft.
Dec. 14, 2017: Penguins 1, Golden Knights 2
Every time Fleury faces the Penguins, it feels like he ramps up his usual acrobatics— maybe just to remind Pittsburgh fans of how fun it is to have your heart rate spike when you watch your goaltender leaving the crease.
In his first time playing ever against the Penguins back in 2017 out in Vegas, Fleury turned to face Dominik Simon as he readied himself for a no-look behind-the-net pass from Sidney Crosby. But when Simon whiffed the shot and, while falling, shoved a desperate pass towards Brian Dumoulin at the other side of the cage, Fleury toppled out of the net to block the angle with his entire body as one of the 24 saves that sealed Vegas’ 2-1 win.
The Penguins scored just once against Fleury in this first match-up, when Carl Hagelin’s quick cross-ice pass to Ian Cole at the goal line left Cole faced with an empty half of the net.
Feb. 6, 2018: Golden Knights 4, Penguins 5
The Penguins scored five straight goals to welcome Fleury back to Pittsburgh— Ryan Reaves, wrister under the glove from the left circle; Ian Cole, blocker-side wrister from the slot; Jake Guentzel, screened one-timer over the far-side glove; Evgeni Malkin, blocker-side snap shot to finish off a two-on-one rush; and Phil Kessel, finishing off a no-chance passing play with a blocker-side one-timer. Fleury stopped 33 of 38 shots for a .868 save percentage.
“Now I get to see what the other goalie faced, all these years,” Fleury said that night in a postgame interview. “It’s good to play against them, they’re very talented, very fast, and able to create a lot of space and time for themselves to get some goals. ... Sometimes I caught myself thinking a little too much of what they like to do usually, their tendencies and what I’ve seen a lot.”
Jan. 19, 2019: Penguins 3, Golden Knights 7
Fleury doesn’t always need headstands and acrobatics to stun the Penguins— he stoned a Penguins power play with a deft left-to-right pad stretch that left Phil Kessel out in the cold.
This time, Fleury stopped 34 of 37 shots for a .919 save percentage. Goals against: Olli Maatta’s one-timer sets up Kessel’s one-timer in the blue paint; Fleury dives out of the crease to cut down the angle for Guentzel, who taps the puck over to Simon at the open side of the net; Guentzel’s behind-the-net pass finds Crosby in the high slot before Fleury can brace for his one-timer.
Oct. 19, 2019: Golden Knights 3, Penguins 0
Fleury, who leads the Pittsburgh franchise with 10 shutouts, earned some poetic revenge in Pittsburgh with a 29-save shutout, including a stop on what looked like an all-but guaranteed tying tally from Juuso Riikola. A quick cross-ice found Riikola alone on a power-play with an empty net yawning just feet away— but Fleury, even without a post against which to brace his skate, slid in a split across the goal line to block the shot with an outstretched glove-hand arm.
Fleury went on to weather three Penguins power plays without letting a single puck across the goal line, despite the persistent screen set up by Patric Hornqvist.
“Horny was always in front, I couldn’t see the puck,” Fleury laughed in a postgame interview that night. “I was always battling to find it.”
Jan. 7, 2020: Penguins 4, Golden Knights 3
The Golden Knights strung together four straight wins heading into their most recent meeting with the Penguins— a streak that Pittsburgh was more than happy to snap. Brandon Tanev scored the game-winning goal with a sparkling solo effort, dodging Fleury’s poke check as he swept the puck through the crease before tucking it past his too-slow right pad.
It’s a rather brief history— five meetings, two Penguins wins and a Fleury revenge shutout— but there hasn’t been a single matchup yet without Fleury snatching away at least one highlight-reel robbery.
Could that change this Saturday?
Fleury appeared stunned in the Blackhawks’ season opener on Oct. 13, when the Colorado Avalanche— led by former Penguin Jack Johnson— poured in three goals during the first 10 minutes of the contest.
The Blackhawks’ defense is not the Golden Knights’, and in Chicago Fleury will face the most exposure he’s seen in years. Meanwhile, Fleury is faced with a Penguins squad powered by leading scorers Danton Heinen and Evan Rodrigues— a team he doesn’t know as well as he once did a certain two-headed monster.
The Oct. 16 clash between the two teams marks the start of a new chapter in Pittsburgh’s relationship with the NHL’s 2021 Vezina Trophy winner.