Marc-Andre Fleury photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sports
Marc-Andre Fleury is one of only three goalies in NHL history with 500-plus wins.
Fleury has won the Stanley Cup three times already. He won his first Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie last season, combining it with his first Williams H. Jennings Trophy for teaming with Robin Lehner to help the Vegas Golden Knights surrender the fewest goals in the league.
With a track record like that, no one would expect Fleury, a 37-year-old bound for the Hockey Hall of Fame, to seek out advice from Kevin Lankinen after being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks one month after winning the Vezina. Lankinen after all, is a 26-year-old Finn with 19 career NHL wins, one more than the number of seasons (18) Fleury has played in the league.
So, it was a bit of a surprise to hear Fleury say he had indeed changed his game based on conversations with Lankinen and ensuing work with Chicago goalie coach Jimmy Waite.
“Playing overlap on the post when guys are coming at an angle instead of sometimes playing it one-knee down or stand up or reverse-VH,” Fleury said of his in-season adjustment with the Blackhawks. “It’s not something I’ve done before or worked on before. It’s been good.”
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It would be hyperbole to say the addition of overlap, which in simple terms is a butterfly save on plays from sharp angles, typically below the bottom of the face-off circle and with the short-side skate placed outside (or overlapping) the post slightly below the goal line, has been a game changer for Fleury. He points first to improved defensive play for his turnaround this season, going from a 1-7-0 start and .881 save percentage before the Blackhawks replaced Jeremy Colliton with Derek King as coach on Nov. 6, to 9-4-2 with a .924 save percentage since.
There’s lesson enough in the fact Fleury is still looking for ways to get better after all these years. It’s not a coincidence Fleury remains willing to adapt and continues to excel.
“Still learning,” Fleury said with that signature grin. “Always learning.”
Still, the change is worth a closer look, especially when a quick search of the database at Clear Sight Analytics reveals Fleury has yet to surrender a goal this season on 38 clear sighted shots from the zones on the ice where he’d typically use an overlap. Searching for those types of shots inside a zone between the goal line and a line running about halfway between there and the face-off dot, we were able to review chances and track his save execution choices.
Marc-Andre Fleury 2021-22
When Fleury told InGoal “sometimes I just stand up,” he wasn’t exaggerating. These are two of the examples of him going “old school” from this season:
As you can see in the first example against the Winnipeg Jets, Fleury mixed in a reverse-VH when the play was originating from behind the net, and that factors into the majority of his decisions to use reverse-VH. For comparison’s sake, we took a look at 38 chances from the season before with Vegas, and it’s jarring how frequently Fleury simply “stood up.”
Marc-Andre Fleury 2020-21
Some may be wondering how come there are seven “overlap” saves last season when Fleury himself said he hadn’t used it before. Both samples contain some sharp-angle chances that were more or less shots from a distance and Fleury, who has always been good not to commit to reverse-VH when the puck is on the wall, used a simple butterfly to make the save.
The chances we want to look more at are from closer range, net drives or rush chances down the wing that transition into sharp-angle shots. This is where Fleury is using overlap more.
That overlap usage appears to have increased as his first season in Chicago has gone on, and as we saw in the original series of clips, repeated below, he’s even mixed in a VH save from an overlap position, and will transition from overlap to reverse-VH as a net drive gets closer.
Compare that to earlier in the season, when the default on net drives was reverse-VH:
So, what does Fleury, who added reverse-VH to his game when Mike Bales became the Pittsburgh Penguins goaltending coach in 2013, like about the overlap as an option? He told InGoal that he felt reverse-VH left too big a hole over his short-side shoulder when he dropped into the post, and he didn’t like the hole between his blocker and his body when he used traditional VH.
Of course, simply dropping into the butterfly while on the post is also problematic.
For starters, the very nature of that drop pushes them away from that short-side post because the skates flare out in the butterfly, leaving a gap between the arm and post. By positioning the skate outside the post, Fleury can keep his torso lined up with that post even if he drops into a wide-flare butterfly, while at the same time keeping that short-side skate free from any interference with the post, which makes it a lot easier to move it to grab an edge to push into the middle in case there’s a pass, or push across if the play becomes a wraparound.
“I feel like I was getting caught on the post,” Fleury said. “Sometimes you are in between with other ways. When you go outside the post, you can go down and you still can push across.”
There are strengths and weaknesses to each sharp-angle technique. For a lot of goalies, the downside of using an overlap is it places more of their frame — and therefore net coverage — outside the post if the puck is passed into the middle, requiring a butterfly push to regain that coverage. That’s not a problem for Fleury, who remains among the NHL’s quickest lateral goalies at age 37.
For Fleury, the positives “overlap” any negatives.
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