PITTSBURGH — Marc-Andre Fleury doesn’t think anything he’s experienced in his 14-year career that could prepare him for his return to Pittsburgh.
The Vegas Golden Knights goaltender — who won three Stanley Cups with the Penguins, including the last two seasons — will be back in Pittsburgh for the first time since Vegas selected him the expansion draft last summer.
Fleury played against — and beat — his former teammates in December in Las Vegas, but he said that doesn’t compare.
"I think it’s different from every game I’ve ever played," the Penguins’ all-time winningest goaltender said. "In Vegas, I got a little taste of playing against friends and ex-teammates. I guess I got that out of the way. We’ll see."
Fleury stopped 24 shots in that December game, the first meeting between the teams.
"There’s always motivation when you’re playing against friends and former teammates, especially the position we’re in and what happened when we were there," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "I’m sure he’s excited. It’s probably one he’s been thinking about for awhile."
Fleury practiced in Pittsburgh with the Golden Knights for the first time Monday. He said it was weird to go through his routine in the visitors’ locker room but good to be back in Pittsburgh, where he spent 13 seasons.
"It was my home for so long," Fleury said. "I met a lot of people over the years who were great to me. It was a fun time."
Pittsburgh took Fleury as a 19-year-old with the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NHL Draft. He set team records for games and minutes played, wins and shutouts.
Current starter Matt Murray stepped in when Fleury went down on the eve of the 2016 playoffs. Murray helped the Penguins to the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup and eventually grabbed the No. 1 job.
Fleury knew his departure from Pittsburgh was inevitable last spring, but didn’t want to become a distraction as the Penguins sought to become the first team in nearly 20 years to win back-to-back championships.
Teams were allowed to protect one goaltender from the Golden Knights in the expansion draft, but players with no-movement clauses had to be protected. Fleury waived his no-movement clause before the trade deadline so the Penguins could protect Murray.
Then he enjoyed one final run with the Penguins.
Fleury regained the starting job when Murray aggravated an injury during warm-ups in the first game of the playoffs. He won nine games and helped eliminate division rival Columbus and the Presidents Trophy-winning Washington Capitals before Murray returned in the third round of the playoffs against Ottawa.
"We tried to do what was best for the hockey team and Marc was just such a professional in how he handled the whole thing," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "Those conversations might have been some of the hardest I ever had as a coach and the reason is because of how highly we think of him. He’s a great player, he’s a great person and he’s a great teammate."
In Vegas, Fleury has helped the surprising Golden Knights to the top of the Western Conference. Vegas has already set the record for victories by an expansion team, and with a win on Tuesday, it would be two from matching the most road wins by a team in its inaugural season.
"From the start, expectations weren’t too high," said Fleury, who earned his 390th career win Sunday to pass Dominik Hasek for sole possession of 13th place in NHL history. "I don’t think any of us wanted to be satisfied with just being OK or being an expansion team. I think we wanted more than that."
Fleury will most certainly want more during his return to Pittsburgh.
"You always want to win," Fleury said. "I don’t think I’m going to block anything out, either. I think it’s going to be a special moment for me, the first game back. I want to remember it and remember my time here."