Odds are this was it. As he got ready to get to the ice, chances are he knew it too. This was Marc-Andre Fleury's last home opener for the Pittsburgh Penguins. And he made it count.
It's no secret how the end of this coming season will play out for Fleury, barring some terrible accident or massive regression from Matt Murray. This will be Marc-Andre's last season as a Pittsburgh Penguin. And he deserves every bit of praise coming his way on his farewell tour.
Marked as the first wave of the Penguins great rebuild in the early 2000s, Fleury was noted for something impressive: He was the first player the Penguins had drafted 1st overall since one Mario Lemieux. A lot was suddenly on his shoulders.
He received a taste of the NHL in his first season, the 2003 season. His raw athleticism was on display early on as he made 46 saves in a 3-0 loss to the Kings on October 10th. It was opening night and the fans wanted to see what their future held. It was merely a preview of what was to come.
Here, over 13 years later, he took his final opening night bow. He made over 40 saves (43 to be exact), but this time he earned the well deserved win. For Fleury and the fans the future was behind him and in its wake was the franchise wins record, the franchise shut out record, two Stanley Cups, another trip to the Finals, and what is easily the bedrock base of a Hall of Fame career no matter where he may end.
The team remains Fleury's for the foreseeable future. While Matt Murray recovers from a broken hand the net is his. The season is long and the road winding, at some point Fleury will cede the net to Murray. Whether it's injury, the typical seasonal swoons of any player, or a coaches decision the net will once again belong to Matt Murray.
It's the cruel nature of sport. At some point you're not needed. Be it age or those with less age. At some point Fleury will be passed and his time with the Penguins will end. It may be at the deadline, it may be at the draft, it may be through expansion. His time here is limited, the chances to watch him in black and yellow are fewer than before.
Enjoy every remaining moment of the man who ushered in this new era of Penguins greatness. And thank him for every bit of time in that net. Without him there's no 2008-09 Cup. Without him there's no 2015-16 Cup, as he dragged the corpse of the Mike Johnston era Penguins along to respectability for months before a coaching change caught up with his play.
Every playoff success, every playoff failure, every great save, every soft goal. It was all Marc-Andre Fleury. Root for him to finally score that goal, to ride off with his trademark smile, then welcome him back with an ovation that will blow the lid off of PPG Paints Arena once he returns as a member of the Las Vegas Whatevers or any of the other 29 teams possible.
Do it all with a smile as bright as his and thank him, once again, for being Marc-Andre Fleury. Without him, from 2003 until now, these Penguins teams are not the same.