Penguins' Fleury struggling with goals and confidence
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Get into Marc-Andre Fleury's line of work and you can be pretty certain there will be times like this.
Stretches when your save percentage looks more like a batting average, and when game tapes suggest you think your job centers on finding ways to avoid being touched by the puck, not stopping it.
Fleury understands all that and learned long ago that slumps are an occupational hazard.
But this one, he acknowledged Monday, is different. It is the longest, toughest he has endured since the Penguins invested the No. 1 choice in the 2003 entry draft in him.
His season is particularly grim when painted by the numbers.
Fleury is 1-6, owns a goals-against average of 3.55 that places him 36th in a 30-team league and a save percentage of .853 that is the worst in the NHL.
There's no disputing those figures, or what they say about Fleury's performance in his first eight appearances this season.
What's not so easily quantified is the impact they've had on his confidence, probably the single-most important tool for any athlete, especially a goaltender.
Goaltending coach Gilles Meloche estimated that "80 percent" of Fleury's current troubles can be traced to confidence issues, and Fleury acknowledged that his faith in his abilities has eroded as his slump has dragged on.
"Pretty much in any sport, any job you do, when it's not going well, you get a little too much in your head, and your confidence is maybe not as strong as it should be, or used to be," he said.
Whether Fleury will get an opportunity to regain a bit of his lost confidence Wednesday when Boston visits Consol Energy Center isn't known, and quite possibly hasn't been determined.
That decision could be influenced by the availability of backup Brent Johnson, who missed Monday's practice at Southpointe because of illness.
Fleury's struggles through the first month of the season have been offset, to a degree, by exceptional work from Johnson. He has risen from a clearly subordinate niche to one roughly equal to that of Fleury, at least for now.
Johnson not only is 6-1-1 in eight appearances, including a victory when he relieved Fleury early in a 4-3 shootout victory Saturday at Phoenix, but also ranks fourth in the NHL in goals-against average (1.63) and save percentage (.943).
It's no surprise, then, that coach Dan Bylsma -- torn between giving Fleury an opportunity to get his game back in a productive groove while still allowing Johnson to continue earning points that will influence the Penguins' ultimate place in the standings -- is having to rethink his early season plans for how much work each goalie will receive.
"Some of it's going to have to be who's going to get us going right now and play a good game for us," Bylsma said.
"And still keeping in mind that we want to get the appropriate amount of work for Marc to get into a rhythm and get to his game."
There are, Meloche said, no glaring flaws in Fleury's game, no serious problems that have been identified and can be the focus of his efforts in practice.
"You watch tape and, technically, there really isn't anything wrong," Meloche said. "It seems like every time he makes a bad move, it's in the net."
Fleury is, however, planning to make at least one significant adjustment in coming days.
He has become increasingly reliant on the poke-check and it has, perhaps not coincidentally, become increasingly ineffective.
"Sometimes, I throw poke-checks a little too early, or a little too often," Fleury said. "Get out of my position a little too much."
The plan, at least in the short term, is to seriously restrict his use of the poke-check.
"When you get too anxious, [overusing the poke-check] is what happens," Meloche said. "We talked about that again this morning. Put it in the back pocket for a while."
Fleury stayed on the ice long after most of his teammates had departed Monday, and Bylsma pointed out that "he's working real hard on his game."
Fleury doesn't have much choice, because when a goaltender slumps, there's only one guy who can lift him out of it. And it's not a teammate or a coach.
"It's on me," Fleury said. "It's a team game, but I don't like the way it's going now, and I have to be the one to get me out of this."
First Published November 9, 2010 12:00 am