Capitals' Tomas Fleischmann finds form in a flash
When Tomas Fleischmann returned to the Washington Capitals' lineup Thursday night after missing the preseason and first 11 games, Coach Bruce Boudreau expected him to need "a few games" to readjust to the speed and intensity of an NHL game.
It took Fleischmann about five minutes.
In his first game back at Atlanta, the 25-year-old winger did not record a point but was around the net all night and put three shots on goal. Then on Friday, Fleischmann was the Capitals' lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal 4-3 overtime loss to the lowly New York Islanders.
Fleischmann, who is almost 10 pounds heavier than last season, notched his first two-goal game in more than a year, fired four shots on goal and was named first star of the game.
"He looks excited," Boudreau said after Saturday's practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. "He's a boost for our team because he skates on the power play and the penalty kill. It also gives [us] another weapon to put on a third line that can score some goals now."
Although Fleischmann spent most of last season on the second line, Boudreau has put him with Keith Aucoin and Chris Clark the past two games in the hopes that his skill will provide the third line with an offensive spark.
So far, so good.
In the first period against the Islanders, Clark picked off a pass from goaltender Dwayne Roloson and passed the puck to Fleischmann, who stuffed it into the net before Roloson could recover to knot the game at 2. It was Clark's second assist of the season.
Less than eight minutes later, Fleischmann muscled his way between defensemen Radek Martinek and Andy Sutton on the power play and jammed a rebound under Roloson's pad.
It was the kind of goal usually scored by power forwards, not finesse players such as Fleischmann. But Fleischmann said the upper-body strength he gained in the offseason has given him confidence to go into high-traffic areas and play stronger on the puck.
"When I found out I had a blood clot in my leg, all I could do was work on my upper body and abs at first," said Fleischmann, who weighs 192 pounds, up from the 183 he weighed at this time a year ago. "So I did that for a month and a half. It helps leverage. It helps me establish position and stay on [my] feet. When you get pushed, you feel better on your feet."
Boudreau added: "There were times when I had him in [minor league] Hershey when he was 165 pounds. And last year, there were times when he dropped down into the 170s. Now he's a 190-pound forward that can skate and has moves. I don't want to overstate or make him sound like the second coming, but he's always been a good player."
The Capitals could use another big game from Fleischmann on Sunday when they host Steve Mason and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Mason, the reigning rookie of the year and a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, shut out the Capitals twice last season, turning back all 71 shots he faced in a pair of 3-0 victories. Mason's sophomore season has gotten off to a slow start -- he's 1-3-1 in his last five starts and has a 3.48 goals against average and .881 save percentage in those contests.
Capitals notes: Center Nicklas Backstrom missed practice with an illness but is expected to face the Blue Jackets, Boudreau said. . . . Defenseman Mike Green, who was struck by a shot on a leg Friday, also was held out of practice and was spotted limping in the locker room. Boudreau said he anticipates that Green will suit up, but he stopped short of guaranteeing it. . . .
Winger Eric Fehr (ribs) skated but is not expected to play. Defenseman John Erskine (bruised hand) also skated again could return Wednesday after a two-week layoff, Boudreau said. . . .
Center Brendan Morrison showed up for practice wearing a Chewbacca costume.