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Pens' Fleury appears to regress

By Keith Barnes
Friday, Oct. 19, 2007

When assistant coach Gilles Meloche shows up on the ice at a Penguins practice, it normally means things aren't going well for goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

After a 5-4 loss to New Jersey on Wednesday in a game that saw Fleury give up two quick first-period goals and lose his cool in the second period, the longtime goaltending guru was on hand to work with the struggling 22-year-old netminder.

"I just had a little talk with our goalie coach to see what was happening," Fleury said. "We're trying to figure out some solutions."

It was a long discussion. The two were on the ice together for nearly 30 minutes after the team headed for the locker room. Even after Meloche walked away, Fleury was left sitting alone on the bench, a place he almost never occupies at Mellon Arena, considering that he's issued a chair in the runway to the team dressing room when he doesn't play.

After more than five minutes of sitting despondently on an empty bench in front of a vacant ice surface in front of 17,000 unoccupied seats, he finally put on his mask and skated to the locker room.

"There's just too many goals every game, and that's the main problem," Fleury said. "We can't win games when we give up five goals, and it's been going on since the beginning (of the season), so it's got to stop."

Heading into last night's games, Fleury had the highest goals-against average of any goaltender with at least five appearances this season. His 4.11 GAA has pushed the Penguins into a familiar spot, the fourth-worst team goaltending in the NHL, ahead of only Atlanta (4.50 GAA), Los Angeles (4.24) and Toronto (4.04) with a 4.00 GAA.

He's had a problem controlling rebounds, is giving up way too many second-chance opportunities in the low slot and hasn't played well enough to steal a game for the Penguins this season.

In 2006-07, despite a 105-point season, the goaltending remained suspect. Fleury's 2.83 GAA was good enough for 27th among NHL goaltenders with at least 25 games played. He had a horrendous stretch in December during which he went 3-4-1 with a 4.26 GAA and a .840 save percentage. So far this season, he appears to have regressed to that point.

"When it comes it me, I'm the last one there before the puck goes in," Fleury said. "I have to be there and make some big saves."

Things may have come to a head for Fleury against the Devils.

After making a save during the second period, forward Erik Christensen and defenseman Ryan Whitney hit New Jersey forward Brian Gionta from behind and sent him headfirst into Fleury. The momentum from the shove sent both sliding into the net. Seconds later, the puck joined them, as Travis Zajac scored to give the Devils a 4-3 lead.

Fleury was obviously upset. He pushed Gionta off of him, got to his skates and shoved the net all the way back to the rear boards. He then skated after referee Dean Morton, screaming at him for not blowing the whistle while Gionta was on top of him. He had to be restrained by several teammates.

"I can't be worrying about the refs and all," Fleury said. "All I've got to do is stop the puck. That's my job, and it's just so frustrating giving up so many goals."

Still, the top pick in the 2003 draft has time to get his game back on track. The problem for the Penguins is they have to hope it happens sooner than later if they want to make the playoffs for the second straight year.

"It's not going well," Fleury said. "The puck is bouncing everywhere, and that's not what I want."



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