Monday, January 10, 2022

Marc-Andre Fleury’s return, Zach Fucale’s bizarre record chase and more goalie weirdness

Goalies are weird. This is established science, based on decades of watching these guys twitch and talk to their posts and be Dominik Hasek. But it can be a beautiful kind of weirdness, and that was the theme of the weekend.

Let’s start with the strangest story of all: Zach Fucale’s pursuit of one of the least impressive records in NHL history. The 26-year-old Caps third-stringer had debuted in November with a shutout, and was making his second career start on Saturday. That put him in line to establish two new marks for the longest shutout streak to start a career. In terms of minutes, the list is a motley crew led by Matt Hackett, who never actually had a shutout. And if Fucale could record two official shutouts in his first two starts, he’d somehow be the first NHL goalie to do it. Ever.

Through one period in Minnesota, Fucale’s streak endured. He kept it going in the second, long enough to break Hackett’s minutes mark. But then, midway through the period, it happened. Zach Fucale finally gave up a goal.

Kind of. We’re not actually sure. Because this was the goal:

That’s the first goal allowed by the Capitals with Fucale as the goalie of record. But you may notice something missing from Zach Fucale’s first goal against: Zach Fucale, who was on the bench on a delayed penalty. So the minutes streak continued, but nobody seemed quite sure if he could still record a shutout in a game in which his team allowed a goal but he didn’t.

As it turned out, it didn’t matter, thanks to Mats Zuccarello beating Fucale on a real goal with a minute left in regulation. The Wild went on to win in the shootout, meaning Fucale takes the first loss of his career by a 3-2 final in a game in which he was his team’s only goalie and gave up one goal.

Not quite as weird, but probably a bigger story in the grand scheme of things, was Marc-Andre Fleury’s return to Vegas. The beloved former Knight made his first start since last summer’s controversial trade, facing off against old friend Robin Lehner and the team that stuck a sword in his back. He won, because of course he did, making 30 saves along the way. If you’re keeping track, that means the Hawks lost to the Coyotes and beat the Golden Knights in back-to-back games, because this league makes sense.

In other goalie news, we had a save of the year candidate from Joonas Korpisalo. Alex Nedeljkovic had a 25-save period for the Wings in Los Angeles. Jack Campbell answered the eternal question of what it would look like if the Leafs got great goaltending while blowing a 4-1 lead. Martin Jones had 44 saves even though you don’t remember which team he plays for now. Fucale himself had a highlight-reel stop. And just to make sure nobody thought any of these guys could be normal for a few minutes, we had this happen in the final minute of a tie game:

I’m starting to think that people who voluntarily sign up for a life of having vulcanized rubber shot into their bodies at 100 mph might be a little bit, uh, different.

Not especially different: This week’s rankings, which have settled into a bit of midseason stasis …

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