Friday, March 7, 2 p.m. ET

The Washington Capitals

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Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 7, 2008; 2:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Tarik El-Bashir was online Friday, March 7, at 2 p.m. 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: In case you missed the news of the day, here it is again: Chris Clark appears to be getting pretty close to returning from the groin injury that's sidelined him for about three months. Though he doesn't know exactly when he's coming back, a healthy and productive Clark could give the Caps a huge boost during their playoff push.

So with that tidbit, I'll open it up for questions.

Anyone?

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Baltimore: Tarik,

Are the Caps the team you thought they'd be at the beginning of the year as far as position in the standings at this point in the year?

Tarik El-Bashir: Yes, they are about where I thought they would be. If you remember my NHL preview, I had the Caps sneaking into the playoffs with the eighth seed.

Now they've got 14 games left to make me look pretty smart.

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Manhattan: No article today? What's the deal, have a hot date last night?

Tarik El-Bashir: If you haven't noticed, newspapers are in a tough spot these days. The space is shrinking and reporting staffs are spread thin.

Since there was no game to set up today, and I haven't had a day off in several weeks and don't have a backup, it was decided that we would take pass on a story.

I did, however, go to practice and blog.

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Alexandria, Va.: Can you provide some context for Backstrom's saucer pass to Ovechkin on his first goal the other night? How difficult is that to do?

Tarik El-Bashir: Backstrom actually went to make a pass off the boards. Ovechkin, in fact, was anticipating the puck coming to him off the boards.

But in a split second, Backstrom felt that the best way to get the puck to Ovechkin -- and more important -- hit him in stride was to thread the puck through two Sabres.

As Coach Bruce Boudreau said afterward, there are a few other guys in the league who can make that pass. But there are not many.

It was spectacular.

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Alexandria, Va.: Any update on contract negotiations with Green, Morrisonn or anyone else?

Tarik El-Bashir: I ran into Green's agent in Buffalo, but didn't have a lot of time to chat.

It's my understanding that the talks are ongoing, but moving slowly.

As for Morrisonn, I haven't checked on his status recently. But I don't see any problems there.

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Chapel Hill, N.C.: What would you say our best chance of getting into the playoffs would be: overtaking Carolina for the 3 seed or getting in as the 8 seed?

Tarik El-Bashir: Two weeks ago, I would have said the Caps' best shot would involve overtaking Carolina. But now it's looking like the eighth seed might be the route the Caps will have to take.

As far as the Southeast goes, the 'Canes have made it abundently clear in recent weeks that they are the top dog in the division.

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Corner Pub: Boston melted down again yesterday against Toronto? Thomas couldn't stop the kitchen sink. We have to capitalize on this (no pun intended). Do our boys smell blood?

Tarik El-Bashir: I look at it another way: the Bruins are going to be awfully mad tomorrow. Look for them to be flying in the first period and hitting everything that moves.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Can you envision the Caps signing Federov for next year? Or keeping both Kolzig AND Huet?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't see Fedorov coming back for this reason: If he plays lights out down the stretch and possibly in the playoffs, he's going to cost more than the Caps will want to pay him. If he doesn't play well, the Caps aren't going to want him back.

As for Huet, I definitely see him back next season. But I'm not so sure about Kolzig. He views himself as a No. 1. if the Caps can't/won't offer him that opportunity, I think he'll walk.

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15th and L: Tarik - Is there a difference for you personally covering the team this year. In that the team is in the playoff hunt, does it make you more excited to get to KCI and the Phone Booth?

Tarik El-Bashir: Absolutely. It was really tough last spring. I don't feel I approached my job any differently, but it was tough to come up with new ways to write that the Caps lost by one goal. Again.

The players didn't feel like talking much, either.

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Washington, D.C.: Sabres fans are complaining that Ovechkin should have been called for a penalty on the play leading to the Caps' second goal on Wednesday. Did you see anything penalizable?? He just muscled Bernier off the puck, from my view -- just what he should be doing. Just cause Bernier's not as strong as Ovechkin doesn't mean a penalty should be called.

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't think the Buffalo fans were upset that Ovechkin wasn't penalized. I think the fans felt the play should have been whistled offsides. Bernier had brought the puck out of the zone, but since it went back in off his stick, it was waived off.

That was my take on the booing. Because a few minutes later, one of the linesmen blew his whistle for an offsides, and the fans gave him a mock cheer.

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Washington, D.C.: What's the real status of Huet's back? Seems like he could be the proverbial "hot goalie" that a team needs to storm into the playoffs and go deep.

Tarik El-Bashir: Huet said he's mostly recovered from the back spasms that sidelined him in Buffalo. He said there is still a little stiffness there, but that he's fine to start tomorrow in Boston.

For the me, the big question is who starts on Sunday. Boudreau wouldn't say who, but I'm thinking it will be Kolzig.

Kolzig has played well of late, and why take any chances with Huet's back?

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Washington, D.C.: Tarik-

What's your prediction for the games this weekend? Are we going to pick up any points?

Tarik El-Bashir: I feel that if the Caps get out of the first period tomorrow against the Bruins, they should be in pretty good shape.

I am, however, really worried about Sunday. Less than 24 hours between games. They lose an hour of sleep. Not to mention the fact that Crosby and Malkin will be sitting here in DC waiting for the Caps to get back from Boston.

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Washington, D.C.: When a young player "matures" into a better player (say, Backstrom) what does that mean? Is it experience, learning, everything.

I've heard it takes several years to learn to play defense at NHL level? Why is that? What is so different from the minors, except speed?

Tarik El-Bashir: It's a combination of all of those things. How many times have you thought to yourself, "If I just knew then what I know now..."

The same thing applies to hockey, especially when making a jump from the SEL to the NHL. The ice is smaller, the players are bigger, faster, stronger. The intesity is higher, the systems are tighter. That's a lot for a 20-year-old to digest all at once.

As for defensemen, it takes longer because of the positioning aspect. Knowing where to be in different situations takes time. A lot of it.

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Worried about Sunday?: Tarik, you're starting to sound a little more like a fan these days...welcome aboard!

Tarik El-Bashir: That's so funny you say that. People in and around the organization think I'm the most negative person on press row! No kidding.

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Ocean City, Md.: There was some talk awhile back that the NHL might be looking into the manner in which the Caps handle the reporting of their injured players. Any outcome to share?

Tarik El-Bashir: The NHL was made aware of the secretive manner in which the Caps have handled the reporting of injuies. The problem seems to have gotten a little better in recent months. Hopefully that trend will continue, because I think it's important for paying customers (you, the fans) to know why someone on your favorite team is unable to perform.

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McLean, Va.: How is Ovechkin viewed by other players in the NHL? Does his physical play earn him more respect than he may otherwise receive?

Tarik El-Bashir: Yes it does. Lots of opposing players are in awe of Ovechkin's skill, his shot and his ability to do everything at top speed.

But what impresses many of them the most are his hits. I can't tell you how many times I've heard or read a quote from another player singling out Ovechkin's physical play -- even on a night when he recorded a few points.

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PIttsburgh, PA: Tarik, the day after a game do the coaches and players get together and watch film of previous night's game? Do they as a group watch film of the next team they will play? Film study is big in football, for pitchers and hitters in baseball, for defenses in basketball. What about hockey?

Tarik El-Bashir: Yes, there is a lot of film study in hockey, whether it's scouting the upcoming opponent or after a loss in which several players were out of position.

One thing I see around the Caps a lot are assistant coaches, iBook in hand, sitting down with a player in the hallway or the locker room watching video.

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Richmond, Va.: Any funny or interesting things you can share about Alexander Semin? Anything interesting happen on Monday due to it being his birthday?

Tarik El-Bashir: Nothing specific comes to mind. But it does seem that he's coming out of his shell a little more.

The other night in Buffalo, he was playing soccer before the game with Ovechkin, Backstrom, Fedorov and a few others. He must have won some sort of contest, because he started yelling in Russian and running around and pumping his fists like he had just won the World Cup -- much to amusement of his teammates.

That wouldn't have happened last season. So perhaps he's starting to get more comfortable with his surroundings.

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Washington, D.C.: Tarik..you let on that Nylander could be back before next season. If so, what does that mean for all the centers we have, especially Backstrom and Fedorov?

Tarik El-Bashir: I spoke to GM George McPhee about that today. He shot down my theory.

While Nylander has been skating and rehabbing, he's not coming back until next season, McPhee told me today.

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Washington, D.C.: Fast-forward to the end of the season. Which awards do you think the Caps will be bringing home this year?

Tarik El-Bashir: Ovechkin will get the Hart and Pearson, and if the Caps make the playoffs, Boudreau will take home the Adams.

Backstrom will be a rookie of the year finalist, but will get edged by either Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane.

I think the perception around the league is that Backstrom is a good player, but he racks up a lot of points simply because he skates with Ovechkin. People who watch him every night know otherwise. But that's not going to help young Nick take home the Calder.

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Reston, Va.: P.S.- Where are all the Semin haters from two weeks ago??

I think he's the third most skilled player this team has had in the last 15-20 years being Ovie and Bonzai. Your thoughts?

Tarik El-Bashir: I would agree with your assessment. When Semin comes to play, he's defintely in a league with Ovechkin and Bondra.

His stick skills are just silly, and his shot is every bit as hard as Ovechkin's and Kovalchuk's.

Remember the goal he scored against New Jersey a few weeks ago? To me, that was the best Caps' goal of the year.

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Los Angeles, CA: Tarik,

I love the way Mike Green is playing, but with each goal he scores, I'm getting nervous that his price tag is going up. What kinda salary do you think he is going to command as a RFA, and do you think the Caps will be able to retain his services?

Tarik El-Bashir: His price tag has definitely gone up in recent months. I would imagine he'll get anywhere between $4.5-$5 million a season. The big sticking point will be the term.

I've got to say, while I enjoy watching Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin do their thing, to me, Mike Green is the most fun to watch.

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Other Awards...: No Lady Byng for Brash???

Tarik El-Bashir: Nope. No Selke for Semin, either.

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Piedmont, S.C.: Do you see Clark and Pothier coming back and if so, who'll be the odd man out?

Tarik El-Bashir: I do see Clark coming back -- and sooner rather than later.

As for Pothier, I just don't see it. McPhee told me today that he hasn't ruled out Pothier from returning this season, but he's been out too long already. I just don't see him coming back, even if he started feeling better next week.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Tarik, it's been a week. How is the goalie dynamic playing out in the locker room? Is Brent taking it well? Any chance he'll play? Still seems like Boudreau is confused about the No. 1 situation.

Thanks and keep up the mid-day posting. It makes my job slightly more tolerable.

Tarik El-Bashir: The results on the ice have been good. In the locker room, I'm not so sure. Everyone is trying to deal with this odd situation as professionally as possible. But you've got to remember, there's a former No. 1 (Kolzig) who must now share his job. And his best friend (Johnson) is watching from the stands and not making all the trips.

There's definitely some tension there, even if no one is willing to talk about it.

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Alexandria, Va.: Is there any sense within the team that Olie and Huet are competing for time in net? How are they getting along now that Cristobal has had time to settle in a bit?

Tarik El-Bashir: Boudreau said as much yesterday: Kolzig and Huet are competiting for playing time. It's that simple in the coach's eyes. The goalies don't like it, but what are they going to do?

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Tarik El-Bashir: As always, thanks for joining me this afternoon. I apologize for not getting to all of your questions (there were lots today) but I've got to write a story for tomorrow's paper. Until next week, take care.

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