WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury became the No. 1 choice in the 2003 NHL entry draft because of his exceptional reflexes and athleticism.
The same qualities that very likely contributed to some of his struggles in the early weeks of this season.
There is nothing inherently bad about being so quick and gifted, of course. It's just that being able to rely on raw ability to stop pucks when he was younger might have prevented Fleury from laying the strong technical foundation most goalies need simply to reach this level.
Fleury, for one, does not disagree with the premise.
"I got taught all that stuff," he said yesterday. "But maybe sometimes instead of having somebody tell me that I gave up a goal that was bad, maybe I could save my [butt by making a spectacular save]. Maybe I got some bad habits."
Early in his NHL career, Fleury seemed to delight in the challenge of trying to make impossible saves on juicy rebounds he gave to his teammates during practice. Now, when his game slips out of synch, as it has been for much of this month, rebound-control tends to be a central theme.
It is easy to see how that might not be a coincidence.
"It's tough, sometimes, to break habits," he said. "Sometimes, when I was young, I did stuff that's not right. It's tough to change, but I keep working on it."
Fleury was 2-3, with a goals-against average of 4.11 and .871 save percentage, before his start against Washington at the Verizon Center last night.
Jagr haunts Capitals
Washington believed it was taking a major step toward becoming a Stanley Cup contender when it acquired Jaromir Jagr from the Penguins in 2001.
The Capitals promptly signed him to a $77 million contract extension that ran through the 2007-08 season, but traded Jagr to the New York Rangers less than three seasons later.
And still is feeling the impact of his time here.
Washington is paying $3.46 million of Jagr's $8.36 million salary for 2007-08 -- something that would not be allowed under the collective bargaining agreement now in place -- and, according to a report in The Washington Post, might still be doing it next season, too.
According to the Post, Jagr's deal includes an option year (the league's current labor deal prohibits those, too) that can be triggered if he:
Scores 40 regular-season goals and the Rangers win a playoff round.
Wins the league scoring title, the Hart Trophy (regular-season MVP) or the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP).
Gets 84 points and New York reaches at least the second round of the playoffs.
Laraque back in lineup
Penguins winger Georges Laraque, who missed three games because of a sore groin, returned to the lineup last night.
He replaced forward Erik Christensen, who scored a shootout goal in the Penguins' 4-3 victory against Carolina Friday after logging just 4 minutes, 48 seconds of ice time during regulation and overtime. Christensen, who has been used in a variety of positions and roles, has one goal, one assist and a plus-minus rating of minus-1 in six games.
The Penguins' other scratch was defenseman Alain Nasreddine, who has yet to appear in an NHL game this season.