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Blackhawks’ Marc-Andre Fleury returns to face Golden Knights

It will be another trip down memory lane for the fans of the Vegas Golden Knights when they host Marc-Andre Fleury and the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday night in Las Vegas.

The Golden Knights snapped a two-game home losing streak with a 5-1 victory over the New York Rangers on Thursday. The game featured video tributes to Rangers coach Gerard Gallant, the first coach in Vegas history who was fired after compiling a 118-75-20 record in 2 1/2 seasons, and popular enforcer Ryan Reaves in their return to Las Vegas.

But no player was more popular during the team’s first four seasons than the acrobatic Fleury, who joined the team in the expansion draft in June 2017 and promptly led the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final during a storybook first season.

“I don’t know if it’s purposely, but I haven’t thought much about it,” Fleury said of his much-anticipated return.

Fleury won the Vezina Trophy last season after compiling a 26-10-0 record and six shutouts with a 1.98 goals-against and .928 save percentage. However, the Golden Knights, saddled with major salary cap problems that frequently left the team short-handed near the end of the 2020-21 season, decided to trade Fleury to the Blackhawks for minor league forward prospect Mikael Hakkarainen last July.

Current Vegas starting goaltender Robin Lehner ($5 million per year) and backup Laurent Brossoit ($2.325 million per) combined make slightly more than Fleury’s $7 million per season.

Fleury is 9-11-2 with a 3.01 GAA, two shutouts and a .907 save percentage for the Blackhawks, who come to Las Vegas in the midst of an 0-3-3 skid that includes a 6-4 loss to the Arizona Coyotes in Glendale, Ariz., on Thursday. However, he is 8-4-2 with a 2.46 goals-against over his past 14 starts.

The Blackhawks held a players-only meeting that lasted more than 20 minutes after their loss to the Coyotes, who have the fewest points of any team in the NHL.

“It’s good. They need to,” Blackhawks interim coach Derek King said. “It can’t be myself or the rest of the staff coming in there and telling them what they’re doing wrong or what they need to do. Honestly, I never went in. I saw the door shut, so I just left it.

“(Losing) is frustrating and I know they’re frustrated. The biggest thing is they still need to believe that they’re a good team and they can pull out of this and continue to try to climb the charts here. My message was to just back each other up, stay as a team.”

“We don’t want this little skid to snowball into something bigger than it is,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “If we keep playing as a team, a little bit more consistent with our effort, things are going to start clicking for us.”

Chicago is 11 points behind Edmonton for the second wild card spot in the Western Conference.

Vegas entered Friday’s action with the most wins (23) and points (47) of any team in the West.

“When we’re defending well we’re a really hard team to play against,” coach Peter DeBoer said after the Golden Knights held the Rangers to 20 shots on goal, including only four in the third period. “There was a big commitment (Thursday) to defend well against a real good team.”

–Field Level Media