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Penguins' Fleury has room to improve

Pittsburgh goaltender practicing, but wants to work on reaction time before return from injury

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury might not be at his best if he returns against the New York Rangers at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday.

Fleury participated in a second consecutive practice Tuesday, one day before the Penguins open the Eastern Conference First Round against the Rangers (8 p.m. ET; USA, MSG, ROOT, SN, TVA Sports 2). Despite participating for the majority of Pittsburgh's hour-long practice, Fleury said some areas of his game would take time to recover.

After missing five games with his second concussion of the season, Fleury hasn't shown noticeable lingering affects during practices, but said he isn't satisfied with his reaction time, rebound control and ability to pick up pucks or read plays.

"I think anytime you miss the game for a while, I think it's always tough to get back to that game shape," Fleury said. "I think that once you play some, it feels easy. It feels normal. But to get back to that level, you need practice and you need to play. It's playoff time and we've been playing for a while, so I'm going to figure this out."

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan reiterated Fleury remains day-to-day. Before Pittsburgh's final regular-season game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, Sullivan said there was an extremely small possibility Fleury could play in that game.

Instead, Fleury missed a fifth game and has not played since sustaining his concussion in a 5-2 win against the Nashville Predators on March 31.

"We'll evaluate as best we can where we think he is, as far as his performance and his timing," Sullivan said. "That's always one of the challenges. In a perfect world, we'd love to get him in a game prior to this. It didn't work out that way."

The importance of Fleury's status elevated Saturday when rookie goalie Matthew Murray sustained an upper-body injury late in the first period. Murray has not participated in either of Pittsburgh's practices since the 3-1 loss.

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Jeff Zatkoff replaced Murray against the Flyers and played well, allowing two goals on 24 shots, despite picking up his ninth loss in his past 11 appearances. The Penguins have expressed their confidence in Zatkoff over the past two days, including defenseman Ben Lovejoy.

"Jeff is awesome," Lovejoy said. "Guys in this room love Jeff Zatkoff. We want to play hard for him. He's done a great job all year. He came into an incredibly tough situation where he's battling behind two All-Star caliber goalies … He's a great guy, a guy that we want to play hard in front of."

Penguins center Sidney Crosby, who missed 41 games in 2010-11 and 60 games the following season because of a lingering concussion, said it would be difficult to relate his experiences to Fleury's.

"It's different for everybody, to be honest," Crosby said. "Everyone kind of deals with it differently depending on what type of player you are, position, that kind of thing. 

"I think the main thing is you come back when you're ready, so you can deal with anything that might come your way, and that's all you can do. Trust that you've done the right things to get back to where you need to be, health-wise."

Crosby has dealt with various injuries during recent playoff runs, including a broken jaw in 2013 and a wrist injury in 2014. A player's reaction time could be thrown off while recovering, Crosby said, and it's possible Fleury will have to battle through that during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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"You haven't played games for a bit," Crosby said. "You don't know what's reaction time because of your injury or what's reaction time because you've missed games for a while. I think that's for anybody who's missed games, whether it's a week or a month or whatever it is, it takes time to kind of get your timing back."

Fleury was pleased with his overall performance in each practice, but will not evaluate his condition until he returns during a game.

"It's never the same," he said. "I think you can practice as much as you want, it's never the same as the way a game feels. How quick it is … it's something you can't really [replicate] in practice. The only thing I can do in practice is get back to the best I can be."

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