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Penguins

Goaltender learning to shake it off

| Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sunday night's game wasn't Marc-Andre Fleury's worst of the season, but it definitely wasn't his best, either.

The Montreal Canadiens scored on their second and third shots for an early lead against the Penguins and went on to a 6-5 win. They would have scored a few more, too, were it not for some luck and a couple heads-up plays by Fleury's teammates, such as Sergei Gonchar grabbing the puck after it went through the goaltender's legs and just before it crossed the line in the first period.

Earlier this season, a game like that probably would have been hard for Fleury to put behind him. But if assistant general manager Eddie Johnston's assessment of Fleury's development this year is accurate, the Canadiens game will be a distant memory the next time he's in goal.

"I think he's learned when he has a bad game now he can come back the next game and play well," Johnston said. "And you get that through experience. You shake it off. Before, he wasn't able to shake it off. And that's one of his biggest improvements right now."

Fleury's had some bad games this year, but he called his roughly 10 minutes in net March 4 against the Carolina Hurricanes the worst 10 minutes of the year. He let in three goals on four shots in relief of Sebastien Caron, and that was the end of his night.

The 21-year-old rookie was clearly frustrated during the team's next practice, but since that disastrous relief appearance, Fleury is 4-3-1 with a 2.84 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage.

"I really think his confidence (has improved)," Johnston said. "Confidence is a big thing for a goalkeeper. Probably, his biggest asset now is he's starting to read plays; he's got a little bit of patience. Before, he would commit earlier and leave himself open to maybe an open net here or an open net there. But I think now he's learned to read the play a little bit better, and when you're playing goal that's very important."

Although he can't prove it by the numbers -- Fleury had a .901 save percentage his first 23 games and has a .896 his last 19 -- he said it helped once he was told in mid-January that the Penguins were going to keep him in the NHL for the rest of the season.

Growing up
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is nearing the end of his rookie season, and people have noticed the development in his game recently. Here's a look at his numbers from two years ago, this year and his past eight games.
Games
Record
Goals-against
Save percentage
2003-04
21
4-14-2
3.64
.896
2005-06
43
11-24-5
3.28
.898
Last 8 games
8
4-3-1
2.84
.904

"It helps mentally," he said. "Before, you're nervous if you let in a bad goal, maybe they will send me down because of that. Or bad game• Oh, I'm done. Now, I don't have to think that. I think, 'Stop the next one and you have another game if it doesn't go good.' So, mentally it's a lot easier."

Before the Penguins' game against the New Jersey Devils on March 16, Fleury earned praise from one of the best goaltenders of the modern era, Martin Brodeur.

"From the first game I played against him last year to now, that's one thing that's impressed me is how quick he is and how good of a skater he is in the net," Brodeur said. "He's not a goalie that will just go down and block and not really move. He's got the skill and the enthusiasm in the game to challenge and fight in there, and that's what I like about him.

"I think some nights it's tough for him because of how the team plays in front of him. But I think they have a gem in him in Pittsburgh, that's for sure."

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