Friday, Feb. 8, 2 p.m. ET

The Washington Capitals

Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 8, 2008; 2:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Tarik El-Bashir was online Friday, Feb. 8, at 1 p.m. ET to examine the team and the rest of the National Hockey League.

A transcript follows.

Post Coverage:

NHL News

Washington Capitals


Tarik El-Bashir: A few folks out there are concerned about the Caps' collective lack of experience as they enter the stretch run with a playoff berth on the line. I'm concerned about me. I've covered hockey on and off for a while now, including some dark years on the Island, but I've never covered a meaningful stretch run. Can I handle the pressure? I guess we're about to find out.


Rockville, Md.: Hey Tarik -- any chance that Boudreau would have a shot at coach of the year, or do the rules state that a coach has to be in place for the entire season?

Tarik El-Bashir: Bruce Boudreau is certainly a candidate to win the Jack Adams Award, which is given out each season by the NHL Broadcasters Assoc. I don't think it matters that he got the job in November.

If Boudreau guides this team from last place to a playoff berth, he deserves to have his name mentioned with previous winners such as Scotty Bowman, Pat Burns and Jaques Demers.


South Riding, Va.: What's with all the press around the Caps nowadays?

Tarik El-Bashir: We in the media have a thing for underdogs and winners. The Caps are both right now. That's why they're getting so much press.


Washington, D.C.: Have you heard anything about the plans for Eminger in the future?

Tarik El-Bashir: GM George McPhee says Eminger is the team's extra defenseman. My sources have indicated that Eminger has asked for a trade and the Caps have tried to move him. It would not surprise me if he is traded at the deadline.


Arlington, Va.: Despite what GM George McPhee told you about standing pat at the trading deadline, would you be surprised if we pull off a move (even a small one)? If we are right in the hunt for a playoff spot I can't imagine the Caps wouldn't at least look to add a piece. I don't want to give up too much obviously, so I don't expect a big name in return. I think getting this team to the playoffs, even as an 8th seed with no expectations to go far, would pay off in other ways, mainly getting the young guys some playoff experience. In the coming years we should have some high expectations, and any playoff experience we can get now would be beneficial long term.

Tarik El-Bashir: A small deal, perhaps for a rugged defenseman or a veteran forward, would not surprise me. But I do believe McPhee when he says he's not willing to part with any of his young guns for a short-term fix. I wouldn't, either.


Woodbridge, Va.: With Pettinger and Emminger probable trade bait and the trade deadline approaching do you think the Caps will be buyers, and, if so, what type of player would you like to see added to the team that might push us over the top and get us in and deep in the playoffs?

Tarik El-Bashir: I just answered this -- sort of.

I think the Caps would be well-served to pick up a tough defenseman and perhaps a veteran forward (depending on Chris Clark's situation). But I would not expect to see the Caps trade one of their young players to accomplish this.

What can the Caps get for Pettinger and Eminger alone? It would take a package, perhaps including a prospect (the Caps have more goalie prospects than they have spots in Hershey next season) and a pick (they've got a bunch of them, too.)

That said, I could see the Caps doing little or nothing at the deadline, too.


Silver Spring, Md.: Which teams out West are impressing you right now (besides Detriot)?

Tarik El-Bashir: What Detroit is accomplishing is nothing short of amazing.

I've watched a few Dallas games and liked what saw. It also wouldn't surprise me to see Phoenix sneak in at No. 8, especially with the way Bryzgalov has played.


Baltimore, Md.: Ovechkin - Hart, Art Ross, Pearson, Richard trophies

Backstrom - Calder

Gabby - Jack Addams

The Caps Will OWN the postseason awards. Your thoughts?

Tarik El-Bashir: All three are deserving of the awards you listed there. My one concern would be Backstrom for ROY. He's got a ton of competition.

As for Ovechkin, he's going to clean up. Boudreau will get a lot of consideration if the Caps stay in the hunt.


New York: There is a perception that the Caps have a pro-Russian bias in terms of acquiring guys due to Ovie. My question is, is this still accurate? How is Ovie's English coming along? Does he speak English casually yet?

Tarik El-Bashir: Ovechkin's English has continued to get better. He understands just about everything that is said to him, and he's not shy when it comes to speaking the language -- even if it's not perfect.


Washington, D.C.:"depending on Chris Clark's situation" -- when is he coming back?

Tarik El-Bashir: I spoke to McPhee about Clark on Tuesday. There is no timetable for his return. He has been skating very lightly, but is not close to playing again. McPhee said a groin tendon is not something that can be fixed with surgery. It just takes time.

If he does return in a few weeks, it could work in his favor once he gets back into game shape. This is the time when most guys start to wear down a bit. He'll be pretty fresh.


Washington, D.C.: Tarik, you don't write about Ovechkin much. Is he any good?

Tarik El-Bashir: Who?


Washington DC: Thanks for the chats Tarik! Looking forward to a great game tonight. I suspect there will be an extra buzz in the crowd.

With a few exceptions, this team seems very young in age. What do you foresee for the Caps over the next 5 years or so?

Tarik El-Bashir: The Caps are one of the youngest teams in the league. The defense is actually THE youngest in the league ... and could be ever younger next year with the arrival of Alzner.

I see big things for the Caps over the next five years or so. It *seems* like they've found the coach for the job. They've got some of the best offensive talent in the league.

The big question, however, is goaltending. Can Kolzig and/or Johnson bridge the gap to Varlamov and Neuvirth? Are Varlamov and Neuvirth as good as advertised?


Gaithersburg, Md.: What's your guess for the attendance tonight?

Tarik El-Bashir: Announced or actual? Just kidding. That one was for you, Kurt.

Without having spoken to anyone about it, I'll say 17,100.


New York: Fedorov seems like a perfect fit for the Caps- what odds do you put on this getting done?

Tarik El-Bashir: I would have to say slim to none.


Chevy Chase, DC: What does it mean that tonight, at home, with the Caps needing a win against their main division rival to stay in first place, that Bruce Boudreau is starting Brent Johnson?

Tarik El-Bashir: It says Brent Johnson has been the more consistent goalie in recent weeks. Johnson is also good against the 'Canes.


Fort Belvior, Md.: Tarik,

How have the players taken to the way things have turned around, and do you think they will stay focused now that they are in the hunt?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't think focus is going to be an issue. I do, however, wonder how some of the young guys such as Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom will react/perform under intense pressure, particularly if the whole season comes downs a game or two at the end.

But I'm not worried about Ovechkin. He's shown time and again that he thrives on pressure and craves the spotlight. I can only imagine what he'll do once he finally gets into the playoffs.


Altoona, Pa.: Do opponents fear the Caps talent or is the team thought of as overachieving guys who hustle by their peers?

Tarik El-Bashir: I spoke to Jason Spezza, and a few other players, about this at the all-star game. Opposing players no longer view the Caps are a hard-working team that's trying hard. They view the Caps as hard-working team that's now got a few game breakers, namely Ovechkin, Green, Backstrom and Semin.

Spezza joked about not wanting to see the Caps ever again, especially not in April.


Arlington, Va.: In your blog yesterday you mentioned that McPhee has indicated no interest in Forsberg. Your take (esp. in light of Nylander season-ending injury, veteran leadership with Clark still hurting)?

Tarik El-Bashir: I think it's the right move on GM's part. In his prime Forsberg was a GREAT player. One of the best. But there's some doubt as to what he'll be able to do now. He still hasn't pushed himself 100-percent during his recovery. Who knows what will happen when he does.

Forsberg is simply too big of a risk.


LaPlata, Md.: Tarik, have you heard anything about getting Green re-signed?

Tarik El-Bashir: The sides are talking about an extension right now.


L.A. by way of Maryland: Is it just me or has Mike Green's play slipped a little of late? I know it's silly to assume he'd continue at his torrid goal-scoring streak he was on for a while there (and that he's still the leader among NHL blueliners) but he seems a little off his game lately. You agree? And do you know if he feels this way?

Tarik El-Bashir: Green did hit a little bit of a rough patch, beginning with the Pittsburgh game. Remember, he was playing without his partner, Shaone Morrisonn for a while. That could have had something to do with it.

But I thought he was tremendous against the Flyers the other day. So perhaps the rough patch is behind him.


Wearing a letter: I love it that Brashear is wearing the "A".

Bruce B. knows that this team needs more physical play. What better way to send a message other than to let Brashear go out there and bash someone as a true representative of the Caps.

Tarik El-Bashir: Brashear does his job and he does it well. I do, however, cringe when he takes an unnecessary penalty, which he's prone to doing every once in a while.


Philadelphia: Tarik,

Is this really your first playoff run as a beat reporter? Wow! Kudos for your dedication! How much do you think having about half the team filled with veterans of the Calder Cup Championship campaign will make up for the lack of NHL playoff experience?

Tarik El-Bashir: The Calder Cup run will help to some degree.

But I've got to imagine that the pressure in the AHL vs. the pressure in the NHL is like running for high school president vs. running for U.S. president. There's really no comparison.


Philly: Tarik,

What can you tell us about the enigma known as Alexander Semin? The kid has incredible hands and moves, yet seems hesitant to shoot.

Has Bruce Boudreau made any headway in helping him reach his potential (what do the players tell you?) Also, are the Caps pushing/urging him to improve his English? As always, thanks for your fantastic coverage!!

Tarik El-Bashir: Semin is still a bit of a mystery, even in his own dressing room.

But it seems to me that he's getting more comfortable with teammates and with his English. He understands a lot of what's being said to him, but definitely not all. And that has a lot to do with his distant relationship with some of his teammates.

Here's a funny story: I went to interview him a weeks days ago. He agreed to talk, but wanted Ovechkin to interpret. Ovechkin refused and instead told Semin to speak English. Backstrom and Brashear chimed in moments later, imploring Semin to speak English. Semin still refused and so I did the interview with Ovechkin's help.

But clearly Semin's English is getting better or his teammates wouldn't have pushed him. He's just not comfortable yet.


Washington, D.C.: In his WashPo chat, Boudreau said that fighting is still an important part of hockey. Do you agree? Can a sport that condones fighting ever be considered big time? (example of NOT big time: All-Star Game on Versus)

Tarik El-Bashir: That's a great point.

As a father and fan of the game, what do you say to your son when he watches one hockey player beat the snot out of another on TV? Fighting will get you kicked out of school, but it will win the admiration of your teammates and fans in the NHL.

Fighting is a part of the fabric of NHL hockey. I get that. But I've got to say that I don't miss it when I watch international competitions.

So, in short, I'm torn on the issue.


Woodbridge, Va.: Hi, Tarik!

Can we have more features about the Caps off-ice? The Segway feature was GREAT! More stories like that would be most welcome.

Tarik El-Bashir: Email Dan Steinberg over the DC Sports Bog. I would love to do some of that stuff, but I've got to write about the team on the ice. And that takes most of my day.


Alexandria, Va.: Is there anyone out there in particular that you think could seriously threaten Alex Ovechkin for the Hart trophy?

Tarik El-Bashir: In my mind, no. No one has meant as much to their team as Ovechkin has meant to the Caps. He should win the MVP. Period.


Collingswood, N.J.: I'm Flyers fan who is becoming a Caps fan more and more every day because of Ovechkin. I was glad to see them take the lead in the Southeast, even though it came at the Flyers expense. In my mind, I think Kozlov is the one guy who really needs to pick up his scoring now to take some of the load of Ovechkin. Do you think he will? And who else do you look to to pick up the goal scoring?

Tarik El-Bashir: Kozlov has picked it up. He's got seven goals in nine games and has been a solid second line center the past two games.

The Caps need Kozlov and Semin to continue to pick it up in the goal-scoring dept. and take some of the pressure off of Ovechkin.

It would also be nice of Green could find his groove again.


Pinch Me: Can this really continue?

If it does, who would be more deserving for post-season hardware: Ovie or Gabby?

Tarik El-Bashir: If I had to pick one, it would have to be Ovechkin.


Tarik El-Bashir: I would love to stay and chat all afternoon. But I've got to head downtown for tonight's game in a few minutes. See you next week.


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