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Wild coach Dean Evason relishes debate with assistant coaches

What went into the decision to start Marc-Andre Fleury to start three consecutive games for the first time this season?

Minnesota Wild goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury cools off after a save against the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 26, 2023 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Minnesota Wild goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury cools off after a save against the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 26, 2023 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Matt Blewett / USA Today Sports

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Though the decision to start goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury might always seem an easy decision to the casual fan, fellow goaltender Filip Gustavsson has given the Minnesota Wild’s coaching staff something to think about on a nightly basis.

It was no different heading into Saturday’s game between the Wild and Buffalo Sabres at Xcel Energy Center.

Looking at how coach Dean Evason has handled his goaltenders as of late, the fact that Fleury got the nod over Gustavsson felt significant. It marked the third straight start for Fleury as he continues to gain some traction between the pipes. It’s been a month and a half since the veteran has started three consecutive games.

“You guys were all talking about how we’ve been rotating,” Evason said. “We weren’t rotating. It looked like we were rotating. Now we’ve played a guy three games in a row, right?”

It raises the question: What went into the decision to start Fleury over Gustavsson?

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“We constantly communicated as a coaching staff,” Evason said. “We made the decision yesterday. It was a debated decision. We could’ve (gone) either way. We just felt with the (weeklong break coming up), and the way that Flower played last game, that we would go back to him here.”

It’s common for Evason to include the rest of his coaching staff in lineup decisions. He appreciates the back and forth and feels the Wild are better for it.

“We like to debate,” Evason said. “We like to challenge each other. We will normally have a vote. I think the assistant coaches will say we vote and sometimes I don’t like the vote.”

That constant communication extends to beyond the coaching staff. There are times when general manager Bill Guerin chimes in with his opinion before leaving Evason to make the final decision.

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“We gather all the information and then we try to make the right decision,” Evason said. “No different than when we’re talking about trades. They get our opinion and then they make the decision. I think the way that Billy leads us in that area is very positive.”

As for debating about a goaltender on a nightly basis, in particular, it helps that the coaching staff has a couple of good options at its disposal. To this point, Fleury has a 15-10-3 record, 2.91 goals-against average, and a .904 save percentage, while Gustavsson has an 11-7-1 record, 2.26 goals-against average, and a .922 save percentage.

Asked about Fleury specifically, Evason lauded how he carries himself the same way whether he’s starting or not.

“It’s infectious,” Evason said. “He’s a complete pro in every way and a big part of our hockey club.”

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