By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Tomas Fleischmann was the surprise of the season's first half, notching 15 goals in his first 36 games despite a bout with pneumonia. These days, the Washington Capitals winger is still making people take notice -- but for all the wrong reasons.
Fleischmann has gone 11 games without registering a point and has scored only two goals in the past 29 games. His pointless stretch is the longest among the forwards on the active roster and is emblematic of the team's dearth of secondary scoring over the past month, which has become a source of concern as the playoffs approach.
Coach Bruce Boudreau said after yesterday's practice that Fleischmann's slump isn't the result of a decline in effort. Rather, it's the result of passiveness in the offensive zone.
Instead of driving to the net, Fleischmann has too often loitered around the circles. Instead of plowing into the crease to pursue a loose puck, he's reached in with his stick. Instead of shooting, he's sought to make the perfect pass.
Boudreau met with Fleischmann late last week in an attempt to both reassure the winger that things will turn around and to point out those deficiencies.
"He's got to be more aggressive rather than passive from the blueline in," Boudreau said. "I'm not saying fighting, being physical, hitting. He needs to be more assertive at the net. There was a [chance] against Tampa Bay at the side [of the goal] where instead of digging in, there he was trying to be cute by reaching, reaching to get it."
Fleischmann is not alone in his struggles. Overall, the Capitals have scored two goals or less seven times in the past 11 games as the secondary scoring has dried up. During that span, Eric Fehr has only one goal, Matt Bradley has the sole contribution from a fourth-line forward and no defenseman other than Mike Green has tallied.
"The games we lost lately, it's because the team didn't show up or the secondary scoring didn't show up," Fleischmann said. "The first line always scores goals, but they need some help from us. That's why we won in Florida."
Fleischmann's dropoff stands out more than others because of the heightened expectations and glowing reviews he received following a strong start. After registering 10 goals in 75 games a year ago, Fleischmann matched that total in the first 25 games this season.
But he suffered a leg bruise in early December, then came down with pneumonia. He played through the illness before missing six games because of it. He scored three goals in his first four games back, but he said he never fully regained the level of conditioning he worked so hard to achieve in the offseason. Because of that, Fleischmann, who is generously listed at 190 pounds, has been feeling fatigued and run-down, a problem exacerbated by a schedule that offered few breaks in February. From there, he said, the slump grew like a snowball rolling downhill.
"I need to get my confidence back, but that comes from scoring," Fleischmann said. "I don't think I've played that bad. I had some chances, but they didn't go in."
Fleischmann said the meeting with Boudreau has helped. But, he added with a smile, there's only one cure for the slump he's in. And that's scoring a goal.
"When you don't have success, that's how you get it back -- get a dirty goal," Fleischmann said. "That's what I'm trying to do right now."
Fleischmann came close to ending his drought during Saturday's 4-1 defeat in Carolina. But the best of his three shots on goal wasn't quite good enough to beat Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward, who prevented a short-handed -- and potentially game-tying goal -- by just getting his glove on a shot at the last possible moment.
That opportunity, plus Fleischmann's increased assertiveness against the Hurricanes, has Boudreau hopeful that the winger is on the verge of breaking out. Boudreau also expects that the lull in the Capitals' schedule -- after tonight's game in Toronto they have only one more in the next seven days -- will allow Fleischmann to rest and refocus.
"He's a really good player," Boudreau said. "I thought in Carolina he had some really good opportunities and he was skating a lot better. And he was really good in practice today. So I'm hoping it's the end of the drought. Knowing Tomas as well as I do, when he gets a few, he'll be fine, he'll get on a little bit of a roll."
Capitals Notes: Forwards Alexander Semin and Bradley missed yesterday's practice because of the flu and are "iffy" for tonight's game at Air Canada Centre, according to Boudreau. If one or both are unable top suit up, the team will recall at least one forward from the minor league Hershey Bears. . . .
Winger Quintin Laing was released from a Tampa hopsital and returned to his Pennsylania home yesterday, three days after suffering a torn spleen against the Lightning, according to a team spokesman.