Friday, Nov. 2 at 2 p.m. ET

The Washington Capitals

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Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 2, 2007; 2:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Tarik El-Bashir was online Friday, Oct. 26 at noon ET to examine the team and the rest of the National Hockey League.

A transcript follows.

Post Coverage:

NHL News

Washington Capitals

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Tarik El-Bashir: Hello everyone, and thanks for joining me today. Sorry I'm running a little bit late, but I'll make it up to you by trying my best to answer all of your questions today.

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Herndon, Va.: Hi Tarik -- we've tightened up our defensive play but it's so painfully obvious that our PP is in desperate need of an overhaul. It's received attention and against a horrible Toronto team, we received some dividends but we seem to look for a perfect shot on the PP vs. crashing the net. Is Hanlon going to continue revising special teams?

Thanks for the great coverage you provide us fans!

Tarik El-Bashir: I thought the power play had turned a corner when Hanlon started "stacking" the unit a few games ago. But then the injuries hit. Without Clark, Semin and Poti, the Caps are missing three of their best PP players. Let's remember, this still is not a team that can withstand that many injuries to key players.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Tarik,

Thanks for doing these chats. I was rereading the feature you did earlier this season on Semin and was wondering if you had anything to add about him being kicked off the Russian national team this summer. All you wrote was:

"About a month later, Semin's reputation took another hit when he was left off of Russia's world championship team after arriving 3 1/2 hours late for training camp. He was heartbroken. "

The whole thing seemed fishy at the time; like an act of retribution for some unknown offense. Any further explanation from Semin left on the cutting room floor?

Tarik El-Bashir: I think it was just a mix-up, nothing less and nothing more. Semin thought the Russian officials were okay with him showing up a few hours late because of travel issues. Apparently, they were not.

But, as I've maintained, the other 22 players showed up on time. So some of this has to fall on Semin.

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20008: What does it say about the Caps' problems at RW that Joe Motzko goes from the Caps' PP to Hershey's fourth line?

Tarik El-Bashir: Do you really need me to answer that question? They are razor thin at RW. The injury to Eric Fehr, which could keep him out all season, didn't help.

But the team management/ownership knew about Fehr's condition, and they also knew that Fleischmann's possible development into a first liner wasn't a sure thing. But they didn't make an further additions. And now they are playing for it.

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Oak Hill, Va.: I know it gets asked a lot... but when will we see Backstrom at center? He already looks like he can hold his own out there. To me, a line with Ovie/Backstrom/Kozlov is an upgrade over last night's line (no offense Gordo, but you belong on the 3rd). Does Hanlon have Backstrom playing at all with Ovie in practice?

Tarik El-Bashir: Backstrom has played center on Ovechkin's line a few times this season, if you remember. I thought he looked good -- in flashes.

But Hanlon has to be careful not to rush him. He doesn't turn 20 until next month, and center is the hardest forward position to learn.

Think about it: You've got to be good in the faceoff circle. That comes with experience (and strength).

And you've got be rock solid in your own zone. If a center makes a mistake on D-zone coverage, it's as bad as a defenseman making a mistake. The puck will probably end up in the net. The stakes aren't nearly as high for wingers because their assignments aren't five feet in front of the net.

I'm all for bringing him along at his own pace. Seems to have worked fine for Malkin in Pittsburgh.

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Zero, Boston: When you look at the numbers (1g, 6a, +6), Brian Pothier is playing pretty well. Are the numbers lying or are we starting to see the player that we paid for last year? Thanks.

Tarik El-Bashir: I thought Pothier had a tough start to the season, but he seems to be settling in nicely to his new, slightly reduced role. He can still be better, but so can a lot of Caps.

Just remember this: numbers never lie.

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20008: At the risk of stating the obvious, in the salary cap era no one can lose three top players and keep on tickin'. Imagine if Carolina lost Staal, Stillman and Kaberle all at once.

Tarik El-Bashir: Bingo.

I know Hanlon and his players say injuries aren't an excuse. But that's what they have to say.

They are missing 70 some goals from the lineup, and tons of experience. Sorry, but that matters.

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Maryland: Tarik,

Why don't they put Semin on IR and have him let his ankle heal instead of reinjuring it every other game that he plays? I truly believe if they had put him on IR and not skate, that it would be healed 100 percent by now.

Tarik El-Bashir: I've heard a lot of fans say that.

But here's the truth of the matter: The Caps don't rush injured players back. The player, himself, makes the decision regarding when to come back.

Semin thought he was ready. But he found out that he wasn't. I've got the feeling he's going to rest the ankle longer this around.

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Rockville, Md.: How is Olie today, after the collision, last night?

Tarik El-Bashir: I have not seen Olie today because I was traveling. But I talked to him for a long time last night. He said his "bell was rung", but that he felt fine a few minutes later.

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Tonight's game: Going to the game tonight with a Flyers fan. Given the standings and the Caps injuries at the moment. How insufferable do you think this is going to get?

Tarik El-Bashir: For you? Or for the Caps?

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Washington, D.C.: Hey Tarik,

This is probably a stoopid question, but how is Chris Clark doing for a guy who lost half his front teeth and half his ear "in the line of duty?" Poor guy, and I don't care what he's making, can you tell him we-all in Caps-land wish him well and hope he returns soon!!

Tarik El-Bashir: I talked to him for a bit before yesterday's game and I saw him afterward. All things considered, I think he's doing okay.

But I wouldn't be surprised if he misses at least the first two games of the upcoming road trip, if not a little bit longer.

Still, he's one of the toughest athletes I've ever covered.

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Arlington, VA: If the Caps do not make the playoffs, does Ted Leonsis finally make a move and bring in a new general manager and coach?

Tarik El-Bashir: I suppose it would have to be considered. But I'm not sure ownership is looking that far ahead at the moment.

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Washington D.C.: With the extension for Semin a done deal, is there any word yet on a new deal for Ovechkin?

We were all expecting to hear about a new deal when he came back from his summer break.

Tarik El-Bashir: I spoke to Ovechkin about his contract situation in Toronto earlier this week.

He said talks have not turned serious-yet. But he also said that he's not worried because there's so much time left.

In my opinion, if he continues to play the way he's playing, his value is only going to continue to rise.

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Shaw, DC: Tarik,

What are you thoughts on Ovechkin versus other NHL stars when it comes to making the other players on the ice better? I know Zubrus/Clark had great success with OV, but it seems like the team is lacking the bang bang passing plays, and relies (especially on the PP) on an OV shot or rush to the net to in order to score.

Tarik El-Bashir: Did you see the numbers Zubrus and Clark put up the past couple of years with Ovechkin? Have you seen Zubrus's stats in New Jersey?

Ovechkin clearly makes those around him better. That said, he still could benefit from playing with TWO linemates who are comparable to him as far as skill.

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Alexandria, Va.: Are the Caps underachieving or is this record realistic of what to expect from the team this year?

Tarik El-Bashir: I would say "underachieving" would be too strong a word. Should they have a couple more wins at this point, yes. Should they have forced a few more games to OT, yes.

If they don't go on a bit of run when the injured players return, then maybe you can break out the "underachieving" label.

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Washington, D.C.: Why doesn't Hanlon see that Nylander and Ovechkin MUST play on the same line for the Caps to have any decent offense? Nylander has shown himself to be one of the best puck control artists in the NHL, if not the best. The combination of Nylander and Ovechkin would be murderous on opponents, no matter who the right wing was. We can't get any worse than shut out! If Ovie gets set up nicely 15 times a game at least one or two will go in.

Tarik El-Bashir: For the first few weeks, I agreed with Hanlon's decision to keep Ovechkin and Nylander on separate lines. Now, I'm not so sure it's the best strategy.

I'm also starting to get the sense that it's only a matter of time before No. 8 and No. 92 are skating together.

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Will the real Washington Capitals please stand up...: I realize that the Toronto game was more or less a fluke/good luck night/whatever, but is there any hope that the team we saw then could be what the real Caps team looks like? I know they're better than 2 for the last 9, or is it 10 now? Obviously they've been decimated by injuries, but that can't cover everything. Are there no guys who really want to step up and try to seize a spot in the lineup?

And, for that matter, what's up with Eminger? Is there a deal coming soon, or what?

Tarik El-Bashir: Toronto was a bit fluky. I think when this team is healthy, they are probably one of the best eight or nine teams in the conference.

When they are missing three key players, they aren't. So that goes back to organizational depth issues.

As far Eminger, he's still here. He's just kind of on the practice squad. I seriously don't know why he hasn't gotten a shot.

He's probably not a top four guy right now. But top six? No one can convince me that he is one of the Caps' best six defensemen.

So I'm as confused as he is at the moment.

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Minneapolis: Earlier in the season, you wrote that the infusion of new talent on the roster should result in fewer penalties. Right now, penalties seem to be coming somewhat frequently or in inopportune times.

Take Sutherby's penalty last night for "hooking," which was actually a penalty for trying to goad the Rangers player into a penalty or fight. Caps go on a 5-on-3 PK and surrender a goal.

Great job, by the way.

Tarik El-Bashir: I stand by that. They are taking fewer penalties. It just seems the ones they do take are coming at exactly the wrong moment.

The veteran leaders have addressed this problem in the dressing room after several games this season.

But now it's time for the talk to stop, and for the players to keep their sticks off of their opponents.

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Zero, Boston: Regarding what you said about injuries: Is Eminger not sold his injury has healed or is it a little of column A (Eminger) and column B (management)?

Tarik El-Bashir: Judging from what I've seen and heard, Eminger is healthy. He believes he's healthy. He's just not getting a sweater.

He's beyond frustrated right now.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Given the lack of depth at right wing for the Capitals, given Semin's injury and Fleischmann's failure to become an impact player, is a trade (possibly involving Flash or Sutherby) looking likely or perhaps even imminent? If not, do the Caps have plans to address this lack of depth?

Tarik El-Bashir: I'm not entirely sure what the Caps' options are right now. It's not like teams are knocking down their door trying to get their hands on Fleischmann and Sutherby, or Eminger for that matter.

And considering all the RFAs who need to be paid this summer, and Leonsis's budget, I'm not sure they can afford another high-dollar winger. Seems to me, they really need the youngsters like Backstrom to develop -- and quick.

It also wouldn't hurt for Pettinger to rediscover his scoring touch, or for Gordon and Laich to chip in with 15 goals each.

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Vienna: I'm really impressed with Ovechkin's back checking on the power play. He makes it look so easy when he lays a big hit on a guy in our defensive zone. Even at the risk of being burned.

Tarik El-Bashir: Ovechkin is playing great at both ends. Overall, it's the best he's looked since coming to the Caps.

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G-burg, Md.: Is Olie going to be in net tonight or is it Johnson's turn? I believe the Caps actually work a little harder when Johnson is in net, but they play a lot looser with Kolzig in net.

They need to score early and often tonight to keep the lousy Flyer fans quiet. Two of whom are friends of mine. I was at the pre-season game that we came back and won 7-5 in the 3rd. Can't expect them to do that again tonight.

Tarik El-Bashir: I'm not sure who's going to get the start yet. But you are right about the team playing differently when Kozlig is in net. But that's true across the league. Guys play more confidently, and don't think as much, when the No. 1 is in net.

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SW DC: Hi TEB - With the Caps being in desperate need for a wing for one of the top two lines, is there a reason why they have not given Chris Bourque a chance? Obviously he is small in stature, but with his offensive abilities he might be a good complimentary player on the wing opposite either Ovechkin or Semin. Thanks

Tarik El-Bashir: It's all about NHL experience. Unless you're a super talent, I'm talking top three or four overall pick, you can't come from the AHL and go right to Ovechkin's line. Just can't be done.

Bourque is going to get his shot at some point this season, but it probably won't be in a top 6 role.

Is a top 6 role in his future? Maybe. But you can't ask a guy to play for Hershey one day and alongside Ovechkin the next.

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Rockville, Md.: I was a little puzzled about the timing of the announcement on Semin's contract extension. Are the Capitals not concerned that his slow recovery is indicative of anything (i.e. injury prone, slow-healer)?

Tarik El-Bashir: The contract was negotiated over the past two months. So the talks were well underway before he got injured.

Even so, it's a sprained ankle, no surgery required. It will heal.

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D.C. - born and raised: T E-B,

With Ovechkin playing the point on the PP, how is that helping the team? In that role he is now frequently one of the last players to enter the zone. I know they are hoping he'll take shots from the point that generate rebounds...but couldn't that role just as easily be filled by a guy like Jurcina (who has a hard, albeit inaccurate, shot)??

Tarik El-Bashir: That role will be filled by Poti (again) when he returns.

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Eldersburg, Md.: Tarik,

This is not the Redskins, but at some point there has to start being some pressure for change. All I hear is we played a great game, we're looking up, three key players are injured... At what point does someone inside the org say, "something has got to change"?

Tarik El-Bashir: Not yet. If things aren't looking up by mid-December, then I've got the feeling that some folks are going to start feeling some heat. But we don't know what the next six weeks are going to bring.

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Why is it . . .: Sorry if this question has been asked before, but why is it that the Caps never seem to make the front page of the sports section of if they do, it is below the fold and about an eighth of the page? I understand on a Monday, nothing is going to knock the football team off but even when there is no big story, the local hockey team is not given more prominence. It just seems to me that the local paper has a role to play in getting people interested in the team and this shabby treatment does not help.

BTW, I really like your coverage of the team and your writing, it seems you bring a real knowledge of the game to your articles.

Tarik El-Bashir: Come on! The Caps have been on the front page a lot. In fact, only three games by my count haven't been out front.

I've said it before and I will say it again: It's not the newspaper's job to promote the team; that's the team's marketing department's job.

Editors base coverage on TV ratings and attendance. And we know all about the challenges the Caps and the league face in those departments.

If the Caps make a playoff push, and 17,000 fans start packing VC every night, our coverage priorities will change. Columnists will start paying attention. Perhaps I'll get some help so I can work on some longer form stories, too.

But the Caps have to do their job first.

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Hershey, Pa.: Tarik-

What's going on with Tomas Fleischmann? He looked so good in camp and now it's exactly the opposite.

Tarik El-Bashir: You nailed it. He had a decent camp, but now he's invisible on most nights. I wonder if it has something to do with his size and personality.

Small guys who succeed in this league often play with an edge. I haven't seen that from Tomas. Yet, anyway.

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Boston: Intent does not come into play for high-sticking calls because you are deemed responsible for your stick whether you intended to hit someone with it or not. So why, in a much more dangerous play, does intent factor into the punishment for Jones' hit in the back that drove the Bruins' Bergeron headfirst into the boards? It's not the intent that is dangerous and that the NHL (and every youth hockey league around the world) is trying to stop -- it's the hit itself.

What message does two games send to the league (FYI, Bergeron is likely out for a month or more)? What message does it send to kids? If you've been to youth hockey games you'll understand that checking from behind is a big problem not helped by a slap on the wrist in this very public case.

Tarik El-Bashir: That's an excellent question. But I feel you must consider intent and prior history in this case. Everything in the NHL happens so fast. A player can be facing you one second, then turn his back the next.

For that reason, I think the league is right for using discretion when handing out punishments for hits from behind.

I do, however, agree that it's the most dangerous play in hockey and it happens far too frequently.

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Tarik El-Bashir: Thanks for joining me today. I would keep going but I've got radio and TV interviews to prep for. Anyway, thanks again for all the great questions. See you next week.

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