Saturday, October 02, 2010

2010-2011 Previews: Forwards -- Tomas Fleischmann

Tomas Fleischmann

Theme: “On your mark, get set, and go now. Got a dream and we just know now. We're gonna make our dream come true.”

Words from a theme song to a television show in the 1970’s might not seem to have much to do with hockey, let alone a player who had not yet been born when that show was on the air. But Tomas Fleischmann has been quietly working toward this season, making steady progress while enduring the slings and arrows cast his way for not fitting a certain mold of player that fans seem to expect. Step back for a moment and try not to associate the player with the name. Now consider a player who…

- Came to North America from Europe to play two seasons in Canadian juniors, where he had 21- and 33-goal seasons.

- Played three seasons of AHL hockey in which he averaged 0.35, 1.11, and 1.13 points per game, the latter two coming in seasons in which he played in Calder Cup finals (winning one).

- Inched his way into the NHL, playing in 14 games his first season, then 29, 75, and 73. His goal scoring improved from zero to four, then 10, then 19. His points tracked in a similar fashion, going from two to eight, then 30, then 37.

- He was diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis shortly after the end of the 2009 playoffs, for which he was placed on blood thinners and ordered to rest for five to six weeks.

- He missed the first eleven games of the 2009-2010 season as a result of his condition, but still went on to post career highs in goals (23), assists (28), points (51), plus/minus (plus-9), penalty minutes (28), while tying career highs in power play goals (seven) and game-winning goals (four) in 69 games.

- On the way to those numbers last year he was 8-8-16, plus-4 against the other teams in the East that made the playoffs, and he was named to his country’s Olympic men’s ice hockey team.

Yeah, that’s Tomas Fleischmann.

But (and you knew there would be a “but” right about now), that’s all regular season stuff. In 22 NHL post season games he is 3-2-5, minus-3. He was scratched in favor of Scott Walker in Game 7 of the opening round series against Montreal last spring after he failed to find the back of the net in the first six games with only eight shots on goal. That shots on goal statistic is telling. Not that he is a big shooter (1.62 SOG/game over his regular season career), but only twice in those 22 career post season games has Fleischmann recorded more than two shots on goal. Fleischmann is part of that “secondary scoring” group that just has not been especially productive for the Caps in the post season over the past three years.

Fearless: It’s not as if he is incapable, cousin. In 39 post season games with Hershey over two years he was 16-37-53. He was 7-15-22 in 22 post season games with Moose Jaw in juniors. He had a goal and a pair of assists in five Olympic games this past year.

Cheerless: Follow me on this, cuz. In the last three seasons, Fleischmann is 5-4-9, plus-4 against the Penguins in the regular season. He’s done pretty good against them. He was 2-1-3, even, in seven games against the Penguins in that series the year before last. You might have expected that.  But that means in his other 15 playoff games against teams that don’t have a dumpy skating penguin on their chests he has one goal and one assist, and only 22 shots on goal.

In the end…

The job of “second line center” is Fleischmann’s for the taking. He might not be a bad option there in the end; during the 14-game winning streak the Caps had last season (during which Fleischmann spent much of his time at center) he was 2-10-12, plus-5. A 70-point pace for a second-line center is not a bad thing, certainly better production than the Caps have enjoyed in recent years from that position. We do not think he will score at that pace, but given the skill (Alexander Semin) and the grit (Brooks Laich) that could flank him, he could be productive in this role.

However, the job of center carries with it more and different responsibilities. For one thing, it would be nice if his faceoff success rate improved. Had he qualified among the leaders last season, Fleischmann’s 43.1 percent winning percentage would have ranked him 83rd out of 85 players. Although, frankly, guys like the brothers Staal -- Jordan (73rd) and Eric (78th) – should be more embarrassed about being on the last page of the NHL stats in this category than a part-time center.

Fleischmann will also have more defensive responsibilities. Although he was a plus-9 last year (his first year on the plus side of the ledger), that was good for only 14th place among the Capitals (eighth among forwards), and he is still minus-14 for his career to date. Among 351 forwards who played in at least 50 games last year, Fleischmann’s plus/minus differential (on-ice versus off-ice) ranked 286th (numbers from For a forward who is primarily an offensive player, that ranking is rather grim.

All of that is prologue though. As much as any other Capital, Fleischmann has to ramp up his game in the spring. Five points in 22 post-season games (career) just isn’t going to get the Caps where they want to be, especially if he is doing it as the second line center. As Fearless pointed out, he certainly has shown himself capable of producing at that time of year. Perhaps last season he just didn’t have anything left in the tank as a result of his getting out of the blocks late after his leg problems over the summer. Whatever the reasons in the past, the time has come for Fleischmann to step up when it matters, because it will be an important part of making the Caps’ dreams come true.


72 games, 24-33-57, plus-15

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