By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Tomas Fleischmann didn't pick a great day to make his long-awaited return to the ice. But after missing two months with a blood clot in his left leg, the Washington Capitals winger was simply happy to be skating with his teammates, even if it meant suffering through the most grueling practice since training camp.
"I felt really good on the ice," Fleischmann said. "That's a good sign."
Fleischmann received medical clearance Monday and completed the skating portion of Tuesday's session, which left many players doubled over.
The question now is when will Fleischmann return to the Capitals' lineup. Both Fleischmann and Coach Bruce Boudreau agreed that a week to 10 days sounded reasonable.
But before he suits up for a game, Fleischmann, who was withheld from contact drills on Tuesday, must get the go-ahead from the team's medical staff and an independent doctor who specializes in blood clots. It's also possible that Fleischmann will be reassigned to Hershey of the American Hockey League for a brief conditioning stint.
"Tomas is still a ways away," Boudreau said. "He hasn't had a scrimmage yet. It's not like he skated with us once and he's going to play. It's a process of getting him in the best condition with the puck and battling with guys and stuff like that."
Whenever Fleischmann returns, it will give Boudreau more flexibility when constructing his forward lines. One option would be to put the 25-year-old on the left side of the second line and drop Brooks Laich down in an attempt to jump-start the struggling third line. Through eight games, Laich has scored one more goal -- three -- than the third and fourth lines combined.
"He's a skilled player who can kill penalties and you can put into situations that he can be offensive and defensive," Boudreau said of Fleischmann. "He's a solid NHL guy. We missed him."
Asked what it means for his lineup, Boudreau would only say, "You can do a lot of stuff."
In June, Fleischmann received a diagnosis of deep vein thrombosis, a condition believed to have been caused by his flight home to the Czech Republic. Since returning to Washington in September, he's been skating on his own -- either before practice or after it -- with Mark Nemish, the team's strength and conditioning coach.
Fleischmann's welcome back, though, was a rough one. For about 15 minutes at the end of the 90-minute session, Boudreau skated his players from sideboard to sideboard, blue line to blue line, to the point of exhaustion. In the final drill, Fleischmann and his teammates lined up on their backs, then one by one, hopped to their skates and blasted off in the other direction.
With four days between games, Boudreau figured this was as good a time as ever to work on conditioning. He also skated his players hard on Monday, but said he'll back off on Wednesday, one day before the Capitals open their Southeast Division schedule in Atlanta.
"It's a long skate -- not a hard skate, I didn't think," Boudreau said. "This was a good day for Tomas to come back and be with the guys and have a little bit of a skate. I'm always yelling during that skate. I wasn't mad. I was more of a persuader. You could see the guys at the end, they were getting into it."
Some players went down on one knee. Others crouched over or leaned on their sticks. Fleischmann's reaction? He couldn't stop smiling.
"For me, I was skating for almost two months by myself," he said. "And so that skate today wasn't hard for me. I was just smiling because I was just happy to be with the guys on the ice, having fun. It felt like a longer summer, that's all."
Capitals notes: Cody Eakin, a 2009 third-round draft pick, has signed a three-year entry-level contract. The center has nine goals in nine games for Swift Current of the Western Hockey League. . . . Center Boyd Gordon, who has missed the last two games, remains sidelined with recurring back soreness. "It's still stiffening up and he's had the same problem in the past," Boudreau said. "We're taking it a little slower to make sure he gets it right." . . . Alexander Semin returned to practice after missing Monday's with an illness.