For the better part of a two-hour informal practice at Southpointe recently, Marc-Andre Fleury was little more than target practice during scrimmages which featured little to no hitting and even less defense. To compensate, teammates worked with Fleury for approximately 10 minutes after practice on a drill specifically intended to aid him.
Positioned behind the cage, right winger Pascal Dupuis fed passes to left winger Chris Kunitz and Craig Adams in front of the crease. Kunitz and Adams would snipe pucks on net in order to test Fleury and to give him something close to a situation he would face in a real game (above).
Such is life for goaltenders during the lockout. It is far easier for forwards and defensemen to work on their games during informal workouts and even find work in Europe while goaltenders face little resembling live game action and have few open positions across the Atlantic Ocean.
Recently, Fleury talked about the challenges of staying sharp as a goaltender during the work stoppage.
Is it more difficult for goaltenders to get an adequate workout during the lockout than other players?
"Yeah. I think it is. There’s no contact. Guys have more time (to shoot). There’s maybe not as many shots from the blue (line) with screens, battles in front. We don’t want guy getting hurt before (the season) starts."
What's the toughest thing to simulate during informal workouts?
"The battles, the screens. Everything in tight. That’s something we can only do in games. There’s nothing like playing in real games. It feels like forever since we’ve played a real game."
It's been nearly eight months since you played a real game. What is that like?
"It is tough. I think it’s getting harder to keep that motivation and practice hard not knowing. Usually we work hard all summer and try to peak at training camp Now, we’re just riding it out to stay sharp and be ready."
Work for goaltenders isn't exactly abundant in Europe either, is it?
"As a goalie you go in, you want to go play. You don’t want to just sit on the bench. If you find a team to play with, the guy that was playing … he’s not playing any more. Then you have a (ticked) off goalie on your team. Maybe if the NHL is canceled, it will probably be easier to find a job. At the same time, it’s tough to steal another guy’s job."
If this season starts, what will be the toughest part for you after such a long layoff?
"I think pretty much the first few games, getting back into it. The rhythm and the speed of the real games. You’ve got to be careful of injuries too. A short amount of games in a short span of time, you’re more prone to it."
(Photo: Seth Rorabaugh/Post-Gazette)