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Friday, April 11 2 p.m. ET

The Washington Capitals

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Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 11, 2008; 2:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Tarik El-Bashir was online Friday, April 11 at 2 p.m. ET to take your questions about the Caps as the team prepares for the first game of its playoff series against Philadelphia..

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A transcript follows.

Post Coverage:

NHL News

Washington Capitals

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Tarik El-Bashir: Couldn't sleep last night? Can't concentrate at work today? Don't worry. Those are normal symptoms to experience in the playoffs. Hopefully this chat will help get you through the rest of your day.

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Washington, D.C.: Okay, Tarik, now we can officially use the P word again!!!

Tarik El-Bashir: The 'P' word has officially been un-banned. Until further notice.

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Alexandria: Tarik,

Do you have any idea how big a deal the Capitals (specifically Ovechkin) is in Russia? How many Russian journos cover the team?

Tarik El-Bashir: I'm told that it's a really big deal. I'm also hearing that there will be nine Russian journalists representing six outlets at tonight's game. (That's twice as many as I would have expected).

The Caps also have two regulars -- Dmitry Chesnokov from Sovetsky Sport and Slava Malamud from Sport-Express. They're here for most home games.

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Gaith MD: Great work as always Tarik !

My question is: do you think that Ovechkin's physical style will cut short the longevity of his career (a la Forsberg) ?

Thanks!

Tarik El-Bashir: I've often wondered the same thing. But, as he says, he's a Russian Machine. And, also according to him, those things never break.

Athletically, he's a freak of nature. Strong, flexible, high pain threshold, mentally tough.

But I guess only time will tell.

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Fairfax, VA: Caps Practices?

Hi Tarik,

Posting in advance since we may have to fly out of the area on a moment's notice for a family emergency. We really hope you answer because we can check the archive online if we do have to travel.

We really enjoy reading your columns -- even during the very lean times when the Caps were not news in this area. Now the Caps are the IT team, and prices for playoff tix are wayyyyy beyond our budget. But can you tell those of us without lobbyist &/or K Street friends and expense accounts if the Caps practices at Kettler are open to fans? Is there a schedule? Checked the Kettler webpage and couldn't find anything. Apologies in advance if you have been asked and responded to this so many times before.

Thanks so much.

- Long-suffering Caps Fans in FFX

Tarik El-Bashir: All practices are free and open to the public. There is, however, a small charge for parking (it's a buck for a few hours). Morning skates begin at 10; practices after home games usually begin at 11; and practices after off days/practice days usually begin at 10:30.

Also, the team frequently updates the practice schedule on www.washingtoncaps.com.

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Washington, D.C.: I love how everyone is getting into mohawks and playoff beards....Any plans for you Tarik?

Tarik El-Bashir: My wife might let me get away with a Mohawk. But there's no way she would let me have a beard. She hates beards.

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Washington, D.C.: It's great to see so many Caps fans at the games now. Do you think that all these fans are for real and are genuinely going to stick with the Caps and follow them? Or do you think that they are fair weather fans that may wither away?

Tarik El-Bashir: I think these fans have been out there all along. They were just waiting for the product to justify spending a few hundred bucks to see a game.

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Arlington, VA: I've seen quotes in the media and am very worried. I can't remember if it was Boudreau or Leonsis that said "now we can finally afford to lose a game." Are the Caps just happy to be in the playoffs and braced for a 1st round exit? What is the mood around KCI?

Tarik El-Bashir: That's not the sense that I've gotten from talking to players and coaches. They sound like they are hungry for more.

But in the back of my mind I have wondered how much the Caps have left in the tank. They have played so hard, and under so much pressure, for so long.

I guess we're going to find out in a few hours.

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Chantilly, VA: If you had to break the series down to one or two key points, what would they be? Does it boil down to goaltendending time and time again?

Tarik El-Bashir: Two things:

1) Stay out of the penalty box. The Flyers' power play was second in the regular season at 21.8 percent.

2) Keep the crease clear. Huet can't stop the shot if he can't see it.

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Concerned Fan: Tarik, do us fans need to worry about Ovechkin resigning after his 13 years are up? If he performs well this postseason, do you think Ted will sign him for another extension?

Tarik El-Bashir: I know you're kidding. But I'm sure there's a group of Washington fans already worrying about Ovechkin's contract status.

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Annandale, VA: Hello Tarik - how does the ice sheet typically fare at the "phone booth" after a couple warm days in a row.

Tarik El-Bashir: I haven't taken a look at the ice yet today. But it certainly wasn't any good during the last three game home stand. Warm weather never helps.

But you've got to remember this: both teams have to play on it.

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DC: Tarik,

I heard there's a press room seating chart due to the enormous amount of press expected at tonight's game. Were you able to secure your own seat? Did you ever imagine such a thing would be necessary?

Tarik El-Bashir: I was told there's going to be 250 credentialed media here tonight (which is twice as many as five years ago), and that the PR staff will use a spill over room.

I imagine they'll find a seat for me. But I also haven't looked at the seating chart yet.

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Alexandria VA: Tarik,

Any chance that they are going to play Olie during this run? I feel that after all he's done for the team he should be able to play in the playoffs....What do you think?

Tarik El-Bashir: The playoffs are no time for being sentimental. It's about winning, and winning at all costs.

That doesn't mean Olie won't play. But I've got to imagine that Huet will have to struggle or get hurt before that happens.

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Puckhead: Wouldn't it be a safe thing to say that the Caps are the team that no one wants to face in the playoffs?

Puckhead

Tarik El-Bashir: Yep.

They're hot. They've got the best player in the league. Their goalie is stopping everything.

That, to me, would seem to qualify them as the team no one wants to face.

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Olney, MD: How much ice time do you think Brashear will get with the Broad Street Bullies in town?

Tarik El-Bashir: I asked Boudreau about this after the morning skate. He said Brashear figures to see between 8-10 minutes, depending on how the game is going. That's about normal for Brashear.

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McLean, VA: How many credentialed media were there the night before Thanksgiving?

Tarik El-Bashir: Couldn't have been more than a dozen in the building that night. But I'll never forget it. I tracked down GM George McPhee after the 5-1 loss to Atlanta and asked him about Hanlon. He paused and very calmly declined to say anything about it. As I look back on it now, I think I caught McPhee just after he had made up his mind to make a change.

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FFX fan: If you had to characterize the players' mood over the past week while off, how would you describe it. Are they as "loose" as they were during the run at the end of the season, or have you noticed any changes in or around the locker room?

Tarik El-Bashir: They appeared loose this morning. Ovechkin was clowning around. At one point he was holding a TV microphone (I have no idea what he was doing). But he was laughing.

Mike Green and Brooks Laich were both smiling and joking around.

There was a feeling of anticipation and nervous energy, but I didn't get the sense that the players were tight.

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Puckeystown, Md.: Mr. El-Bashir,

Who has the fastest slap shot on the team would you say?

Tarik El-Bashir: Jurcina has the heaviest shot. That's followed by Ovechkin and Semin.

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Gaithersburg: Hi. Would you really qualify the Caps as a physical team? I mean, they're on the bottom 3rd in fighting majors. Besides OV's toughness and Brashear's fighting skills, is there more?

Tarik El-Bashir: I would put the Caps in the top half of the league. For the most part, they finish checks. Opposing players always note Brashear and Bradley for their willingness to throw the body around.

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Laurel, MD: How do you see the Caps power play doing vs. the Flyers penalty killers? Go Caps!!

Tarik El-Bashir: The Caps' power play is at its best when the players keep it simple. Get the puck in, set up, shoot. It also helps when Brooks Laich goes to the net.

I can see it doing well. But you've got to remember the Flyers are pretty tough on the PK. They had the 10th best unit in the league.

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Richmond Va Caps Fan: Tarik,

You mentioned earlier that you think all of the newly visible Caps fans have been waiting to justify buying tickets. Any idea if the Caps new found success, and their prospects for the future, have lead to improved season ticket sales?

Thanks for all the great work this season!

Tarik El-Bashir: I talked to team president Dick Patrick about this a few weeks ago. He said season ticket sales (full and equivalents) were much stronger this March than they were a year ago. Renewals have also been strong, checking in at about 81 percent.

But the Caps have a long way to go in terms of building their season ticket base back up. It still ranks toward the bottom of the league my sources tell me.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Tarik, any predictions for tonight/series/entire playoffs for the Caps? I want you to be brutally honest with us. Thanks!!

Tarik El-Bashir: The Caps don't have much collective playoff experience. But I think that might work in their favor.

If they can get through the weekend, I could see them making a serious run. They could be the surprise of the postseason.

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Rockville, Md.: Tarik:

I know you have been asked this question dozens of times in the past....but as of today, would any GM's pick Crosby over Ovie if they had that first pick?

Tarik El-Bashir: Last year, I think most GMs would have said they'd take Crosby. But now I'm willing to bet it's closer to 50-50.

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Rockville, MD: Tarik - can the Caps match the physical intensity of the Flyers and should we be concerned about them targeting Ovechkin with "dirty" hits?

Tarik El-Bashir: Ovechkin will need to watch his back. But I'm not concerned about him. Smaller guys like Nicklas Backstrom ... well, that's another story.

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Aspen Hill, MD: If the Caps make the second round, and Nylander comes back, is he the third line center? What does that do to Laich?

Tarik El-Bashir: Settle down, man! The first round hasn't even started and you're trying to pencil in Nylander as the third line center in the semis.

Seriously, I spoke to Michael briefly this morning and he told me that he's been making good progress and that he hopes to come back -- if the Caps' run goes long enough.

That would give the Caps some big time depth at center, no?

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Fairfax, VA: Tarik,

What was your favorite moment from the regular season this year?

Tarik El-Bashir: Backstrom scoring the OT winner at Wachovia Center Boudreau's debut. That was a great game.

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Woodbridge, Va.: You're a great reporter--thanks for what you do. How is Olie Kolzig feeling right now? Will he be a Cap next season? Does he want to be?

Tarik El-Bashir: Thanks.

As far as Olie's situation, it's tough for him. But he deserves a lot of credit for the professionalism he's shown. He could have mouthed off to the media, or become a problem in the room. But he hasn't. That, as much as anything, was a big help down the stretch.

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Aldie, VA: Visiting team has to post their starting line-up first, right? Does Philly go with their top line or their checking line? And who then goes first for the Caps? Not that it matters much for the next 59 minutes, but it does set the tone...

Tarik El-Bashir: I think it's important to start the big line at home. Because when Ovechkin, Backstrom and Kozlov are announced, the crowd goes absolutely nuts and that energy carries over into the opening minutes of the game.

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Warsaw, VA: Sergei Fedorov seems like such a class act. I can't think of anything better to happen to a player of his caliber in the twilight of his career (except of course, to win it all).

Has this experience rejuvenated him? It seems like it has rescued him from the doldrums of a regimented system approach to one that is closer to a style that suits his game and skill. Is he enjoying the experience, partcularly being back in the spotlight in Russia as a member of the Caps?

Tarik El-Bashir: He's loving life at the moment. He's said a number of times that this experience has made him feel 10 years younger. The presence of the three other Russians -- and the winning -- helps, of course.

It's going to be interesting to see if he takes less money and re-signs here, or if opts for another payday somewhere else, or if he retires.

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Playoff Beard: Could Semin or Schultz grow one even if they tried????

Tarik El-Bashir: I'm not sure either of them could grow a beard. For that matter, Backstrom and Fleischmann might struggle too.

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Tarik El-Bashir: Thanks for hanging out with me today. It was a blast as usual. But I've got to run.

Until next week, take care.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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