Fleury talks about adjustment to Prior’s preferences in Vegas
Marc-Andre Fleury has adjusted nicely to the playing-style philosophy of Dave Prior, his new goaltending coach with the Vegas Golden Knights, but it wasn’t always easy.
Prior has talked about experienced goaltenders struggling to adjust to his preferences, which he outlined earlier this season in a lengthy interview with InGoal Magazine that you can read here. Prior stresses holding your ground, often from a more aggressive position at or beyond the edge of the crease, and not cheating on lateral passes. It’s easy to say, but often a lot harder to do, especially in wide-open NHL practices that rarely look anything like real game situations.
Fleury was no exception; adjusting his practice habits wasn’t easy.
“Because I don’t like getting scored on in practice either and then you get one, two, three and then you are like ‘what the … I can’t keep doing this,’ but I stuck with it, keep trying and trying and I ended up liking it because I think it was part of my style a little bit before too, challenging more,” Fleury said. “Now I can challenge with more control, without sliding everywhere.”
In a lot of ways, Prior has brought back signs of the old Fleury: More aggressive positioning leaves Fleury relying a little more often on the incredible lateral explosiveness that too often defined him early in his career. The difference is he’s not relying on it as often now.
“A little more scrambling sometimes across,” Fleury said. “I like it though. It keeps it fun.”
Prior deserves credit for recognizing Fleury’s skills would translate to the way he wants his goalies to play, and Golden Knights general manager George McPhee deserves credit for letting Prior choose goaltenders he believed would fit those preferences, which helped Vegas survive a rash of goalie injuries.
Prior also knew there would be an adjustment period for Fleury, especially in practice.
“I believe if you want to be successful stopping the puck in practice, you have to cheat on situations, so we focus on our execution and it’s hard,” Prior said. “It’s unsettling but he’s been very receptive. Because he has the talent and athletic ability and experience, I’d accuse him of cheating in practice. He wants success in practice to feel good about his game and I eliminated that. I said ‘we’ll do it the other way around, you have to play right.’ He said, ‘well I am not used to giving up this many goals in practice,’ and I said ‘because you probably cheated all the time.’ In the end, those saves mean nothing.
“That’s where I am more encouraging them that they played it very well even though they got beat. You get a false read on how you played it because someone hit you in the logo. It’s an education process to help them be self-critical so even when they have success on the shot, they are not happy when they look down and see they gave up their crease or didn’t close on a situation and are vulnerable.”
Fleury is no stranger to making adjustments in his game. He talked similarly with InGoal about the challenges of adjusting to playing a more conservative game after the Pittsburgh Penguins hired Mike Bales as their goaltending coach in 2013, especially facing high-end Penguins shooters when they were getting wide-open looks in practice. The adjustments made in Pittsburgh included adding reverse-VH to Fleury’s repertoire, a change he also talked about in the above-linked article. It continues to pay dividends in Vegas because he’s now comfortable and more efficient moving in and out of his posts, showing off that mobility on a crucial overtime save against the San Jose Sharks in the second round.
That desire to keep evolving and always looking for ways to get better is common among the greats like Fleury, Roberto Luongo and Henrik Lundqvist and can also manifest itself in equipment changes.
Fleury shared one example with InGoal late in the season, after we noticed a notch in his stick for the index finger, something that hadn’t been there in the past. As Fleury explained, he got the idea from playing partner Malcolm Subban and, despite being in the midst of his best NHL regular season, with a .927 save percentage, and with the playoffs around the corner, he wanted to give it a try.
It didn’t last long, but as he explains in this video, it was worth seeing if it might help him:
As for the new playing style, Fleury said it was easier to buy in and commit to the changes because he could see how well the approach fit his strengths as a goalie, and credited Prior for how he handled and helped him during the adjustment period.
“He was there to remind me from the start to try it out and it worked out,” Fleury said.