Marc-Andre Fleury and his Golden Knights are the first expansion team in ANY of the 4 big sports leagues to start off their inaugural season 3-0 since the San Diego Padres did in 1969. A big part of the reason why they are 3-0 and not 0-3 is Fleury’s stellar play.
It was a big deal for the Penguins’ Organization and their fan-base when Fleury was inevitably taken by his current team in the expansion draft. Fleury no longer fit in Pittsburgh, but I don’t think many realized how big of a deal his departure really was until this week.
The thing that makes Fleury so good is how he can single-handedly win games for a team. He can bail his team out by holding off the opposing team long enough for them to get their act together and score, something that he did for the Penguins quite a lot last year.
When Matt Murray was out due to injury or simply taking a day off, Fluery could come in and be the best back up in the game. He could play as well or better than most teams starting goalie. That tandem was easily one of the best goalie pairs in the league and certainly played a huge part in the Penguin’s Back-to-Back Cups.
But now he’s gone. And in his place, the Penguins signed Antti Niemi, a goalie who won the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in his sophomore year, but has been getting increasingly worse each year.
Last year, he had his worst season yet with an .892 save percentage, contributing to the Dallas Stars’ atrocious goalie situation. In the off-season, he joined the island of misfit toys on a cheap, $700,000 one-year deal, to prove he can bounce back and be a good NHL goaltender.
That hasn’t been going so well from him. You only get once chance at a first impression, and boy does Niemi wish that wasn’t true.
On October 5th, he started his first game as a Penguin in Chicago, 10 minutes and 4 goals later he was pulled in favor of Murray, who allowed another 6 goals over the course of the game.
The whole Penguin team didn’t play well, but Niemi certainly wasn’t there to bail them out.
Now, we obviously didn’t expect him to play up to Fleury’s standards, and Niemi could still step up and prove to be a solid backup goaltender throughout the season. But it really shows how much the Penguins really rely on their goaltenders to keep them in games, something they got in the habit of when they had 2 above average goaltenders, something they need to snap out of real quick. I don’t miss the Murray vs Fleury debate, but Niemi’s first game as a Penguins certainly does make me miss Fleury that much more.