Among the spectators at the BB&T Center Saturday night for the game against Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins was former Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun.
Vokoun was there as a member of the Penguins, although he was dressed in a suit and tie and watched the game from the press box as he continues his recovery from surgery to remove a blood clot from his pelvis.
After the first intermission, Vokoun addressed a small group of reporters and told us he was uncertain about his return to the lineup and even was prepared for the possibility that his NHL career could be over.
Interestingly, one of the players that Vokoun watched that night was Panthers forward Tomas Fleischmann, a man with whom he has a lot in common.
Of course, they share the same first name. Plus, both were born in Czechoslovakia. More importantly, both have had to deal with blood clots, a physical issue that goes beyond your normal hockey injury.
Just like a blood clot is threatening to end Vokoun’s career, so it was with Fleischmann when he was a member of the Colorado Avalanche. The health issue was the biggest reason Colorado allowed him to leave as a free agent in the summer of 2011, a decision that already has and continues to benefit the Panthers.
Fleischmann currently is in the middle of his third season with the Panthers and he has missed only one game since joining the team — and that was because of a bout with the flu earlier this season.
More importantly, Fleischmann hasn’t just been available, he’s been productive.
The soft-spoken Czech with the easy smile can fly under the radar at times, but he led the Panthers in scoring each of the past two seasons and led all forwards in average ice time in 2012-13.
“Flash,” as Fleischmann is called, again leads Panthers forwards in ice time and he also was leading the team in scoring before he recently hit a snag. Given his track record, it’s logical to think he’ll pick up the pace sooner rather than later.
Fleischmann recorded an assist against the Ottawa Senators Tuesday night when Jonathan Huberdeau put home the rebound of his one-timer on a 5-on-3 advantage in the first period.
Coach Peter Horachek recently put Fleischmann at the point along with Brian Campbell on the first power-play unit, explaining that “Flash” was a good fit there because he makes good decisions and also because he’s not afraid to shoot.
The numbers certainly bear out the last statement because Fleischmann leads the team with 67 shots this season, 11 more than second-place Brad Boyes. From this vantage point, though, Fleischmann actually still could be shooting more because he seems to always be looking to pass in odd-man situations.
In his one 82-game season with the Panthers, Fleischmann ended up with 27 goals, so the track record is there. One thing for sure, the Panthers will need a significant contribution from him to get back on track.
Fleischmann has always been there and has usually been a factor since he came to Florida. You don’t even hear about his past blood clot issue anymore. Seeing Vokoun and hearing him talk about his situation Saturday night just put into perspective how things have worked out for “Flash” — and the Panthers.