Fleury still not close to returning
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It has been six weeks since Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury got a high ankle sprain in a game in Calgary.
That means it has been five weeks and six days since the first time Fleury tried to see if his ankle would allow him to make the quick up-and-down "butterfly" movement that gives his goaltending style its name.
And it still won't.
"As soon as I turn my ankle and put weight on it, it feels funny," he said yesterday. "Every day, I try it. I [think], 'Maybe today will be a good day.' "
So far, it hasn't been. Not good enough, anyway.
Which is why, even though Fleury has resumed skating in full equipment and is facing shots from teammates and staff members before practices, there still is no firm prognosis for when he will be able to resume playing.
Some in the organization believe Fleury could be back near the end of the 6- to 8-week time frame laid out when he was injured, which would have him back in the lineup around the end of the month. Others contend it might be another month before he's ready.
"The trainers, at first, said maybe 6 to 8 weeks," Fleury said. "Now, they're thinking more [in terms of] eight."
The hard truth is that his recuperative period does not carry an expiration date. Until the ankle is strong enough to hold up when Fleury pushes off to get back on his feet after dropping into the butterfly position, he can't begin to think of practicing, let alone playing, again.
When Fleury was injured, there were suspicions his loss could be a lethal blow to the Penguins' playoff prospects, especially when Fleury was just getting his game in sync after a lackluster start. He had won four starts in a row, allowing just four goals.
Backup Dany Sabourin won the game in which Fleury was injured and another two nights later in Vancouver. But then he dropped three of four decisions.
At that point, coach Michel Therrien turned to Ty Conklin, who had been summoned from the Penguins' minor-league team in Wilkes-Barre when Fleury was hurt. Conklin has responded by providing the most consistently strong goaltending the Penguins have gotten this season.
He is 10-0-1 in 11 starts since being recalled. He doesn't usually make many spectacular stops, which is a credit to his good positioning and controlling rebounds. But he almost never allows a soft goal and routinely comes up with saves at critical junctures of the game.
Conklin's role in the Penguins' surge through the Eastern Conference standings hasn't exactly gone unnoticed, and Fleury was quick to acknowledge the value of his contribution.
"He's been pretty good. He's been solid. He's gotten some wins. That's what the team needed," Fleury said.
If Conklin continues to perform at his current level, or anywhere near it, until Fleury is healthy, Therrien will face a difficult decision: Does Fleury reclaim the No. 1 job, or do the Penguins stick with Conklin as long as he plays well?
Management has made it clear it wants to determine if Fleury can develop into a championship-caliber goalie, and the only way to make that judgment is to watch him play. A lot.
But even as the front office focuses on the future and the franchise's long-term interests, it can't ignore the realities of the stretch drive, and the playoffs that follow. As one team official put it yesterday, "We're in the business of winning."
Much can change before a goaltending controversy moves beyond the hypothetical, and Fleury was adamant yesterday that re-establishing himself as the Penguins' go-to goalie is not a front-burner issue for him at the moment.
"Not right now," he said. "Not really. I just want to get better. I encourage the guys. I want them to win. That's what matters right now."
First Published January 17, 2008 12:00 am