Friday, Oct. 10, 2 p.m. ET

The Washington Capitals

Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 10, 2008; 2:00 PM

As the Caps regular season gets underway, Washington Post staff writer Tarik El-Bashir was online Friday, Oct. 10 at 2 p.m. ET to take your questions about what to expect from the team this year.

A transcript follows.

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Tarik El-Bashir: Thanks for joining me for our first Caps/hockey chat of the season. Since it's been five months since our last one, I'm sure you've got plenty of good questions. So let's get started. (And, no, I won't be offering any stock tips.)


Alexandria, Va.: Tarik,

What have you thought about Jose Theodore's performances so far? Is he improving or regressing as the Caps get their actual lineup in front of him?

Tarik El-Bashir: I think Jose's performances in the preseason have been a little uneven. As I wrote in the preview today, he's had some eye-popping saves. But he's also let in some softies.

But let's be careful not to pass judgment before the first game. Let's have this conversation again after a few games.


Vicksburg, Miss.: Tarik,

How much time can we expect to see OV on the PK Iin the regular season?


Tarik El-Bashir: I think Bruce Boudreau is intrigued with the idea of having Ovechkin on the PK, which last year wasn't very good. But the problem is Ovechkin already plays 23-25 minutes a night. Is Bruce willing to play him 28-30 a night? Or worse yet, risk him taking a shot off the foot (like the one Chara nailed him with in the preseason?) and missing time?

By the way, I apologize for the slow responses today. We're having technical difficulties at Bear with us. Thanks


McLean, Va.: What impact has Kettler had on the team's development? How does Kettler compare to other teams' facilities?

Tarik El-Bashir: Kettler is probably the class of the league in terms of a practice facility. There are a few nice ones out there (the Kings have a killer rink in El Segundo) and several teams are building new ones right now.

I think it's had a positive effect on the team's development. Guys are showing up for camp three weeks early, because they know they have ice time, a locker room, a great weight room and it's close to their homes in downtown, Alexandria and Arlington. They can also take care of the business side of things right upstairs.

Honestly, I think Kettler has a bigger effect on the business side of things, since the whole organization is finally under one roof.

Whether it matters when trying to lure a free agent, I'm not convinced how big a factor a practice rink plays in that decision. But it definintely doesn't hurt.


Chantilly, Va.: I must admit, I have mixed emotions as I get ready for going to the game tomorrow. Excited, because the Caps have a great team. A bit nostalgic, and even a little sadness, that Olie will not be in goal as our Southeast Champion banner is raised. Being around the team, is the loss of leadership from Olie Kolzig noticeable, or is someone picking up the slack? And as a reporter, is Theodore as open as Kolzig was, or is he a tougher interview?

Tarik El-Bashir: The first few days it was definitely a little strange without Olie in the room. He had such presence in there, whether it was teasing a teammate or giving a reporter a hard time or answering questions with thoughtful responses.

But this team doesn't have a lack of leadership, not with Clark, Brashear, Poti, Ovechkin, etc.

Theodore has been great with the media so far. Like Olie, he doesn't like talking on game days. But Theo has been a stand up guy so far.


San Jose, Ca;if.: Tarik -- You mentioned something in your blog about what appeared to be the workings of a trade by McPhee during one of the preseason games. Any new insight on this?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't think I mentioned it; I think it was a reader in the comments section. I'm not hearing anything on the trade front at the moment, except the Nylander rumors that have been repeated over and over but don't seem to have any legs.


Springfield, Va.: Tarik,

Why Steckel over Gordon? What advantages/disadvantages do you see there?

Tarik El-Bashir: That's a great question. Both are solid in the faceoff circle. Gordon is a better skater, but Steckel is a bigger body and has a long reach on the PK. Steckel is also a favorite of Boudreau's.

I'm getting the feeling that both Steckel and Gordon are going to get ample playing time this season as Boudreau has hinted a number of times that he plans to "rotate" some of his third and fourth line guys to keep them fresh.


Gaithersburg, Md.: What do you think the chances of Brian Pothier playing this season and if he does play could that be a reason for only keeping 6 defensemen?

Tarik El-Bashir: Last I checked, he was still progressing. but very slowly. I see him often at Kettler after he works out. But he's got a long way to go still.

I would be surprised if he plays again before January or February. But even that, at this point, is optimistic.


Sykesville, Md.: Tarik,

Are the Caps as likely as any team in the East to "win the conference", or would that be over-achieving from your perspective?

Tarik El-Bashir: By that you mean reach the Stanley Cup finals, right? it's tough to say right now. The season is only one day old. But I fully expect the Caps to be among the top four teams in the East along with Montreal, Pittsburgh and Philly.


Richmond, Va.: Tarik, What are your thoughts on Nylander on the 3rd line? I know lines can change almost weekly, but I think the guy has too much talent to play 3rd line minutes.

I know the Caps are enamored with Fedorov but I have concerns he was very insignificant in this league before joining the Caps on their run.

Tarik El-Bashir: I'm not so sure you can call the Nylander line the third line. It's really more like the "second" second line. I think the Nylander line might get more playing time that the Fedorov line some nights.

But, like you said, the Caps could lose a couple of games and Boudreau might blow up his lines.


Chevy Chase, Md.: What is the status of the goalie situation in Hershey? Is there a deadline (official or unofficial) to get it straightened out?

Tarik El-Bashir: Right now, all three are down there -- Machesney, Varlamov and Neuvirth. I asked about this today and was told the Caps are looking for a solution, which will most likely involved loaning out one of them to another AHL team (since they're all too good to play in the ECHL).

But there aren't any ideal situations at the moment.


Arlington, Va: How long do you think it will take for Federov to move to the front line likes last years post season? And besides keeping it balanced how long will take before Semin moves to the A-Line?

Tarik El-Bashir: Having some knowledge of Bruce's thinking on his line combos, I would be surprised to see either of those scenarios happen -- unless there's an injury or someone really starts struggling.

Bruce wants to have three balanced scoring lines, which will make it tough on opponents, since most teams have one top pairing and one checking line. If you're an opposing coach, which of the Caps' top three lines are you going to focus on shutting down? Good luck with that.


Washington, D.C.: How do you think Green will respond to the expectations made of him? He signed a big contract; he has to feel some pressure to live up to it.

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't think anyone is overly concerned about Green. He's one of the hardest working and best conditioned athletes on the team. But Coach Boudreau did say in training camp that he needed to talk to his star defensemen and settle him down. He though Green was trying to do too much -- at both ends -- rather than playing his own game.


Washington, D.C.: Have the Caps or Verizon Center made any improvements to the ice over the summer? They did turn down the thermostat part of last year but then raised it during the playoff in May.

Tarik El-Bashir: I was planning to write a story about the quality (or lack thereof) of the ice at VC toward the end of last season -- but then it started getting better. Now, players are starting to grumble about it again. So that's something I plan to look into when things settle down.

I can tell you this: Verizon Center is the only rink in the league where I sweat while walking around underneath the stands. In Atlanta and Carolina, for example, it's freezing. And guess what? The ice in those two builsings is pretty good.


Minneapolis, Minn.: I know Fedorov was signed for a lot of reasons. He wins faceoffs, is defensively responsible, can play on the blueline, and is a great veteran presence in the locker room.

That being said, what kind of impact do you see him making on the score sheet? The Caps aren't paying him $4 million and making him the second line center because of intangibles.

By the way, Tarik, you do the best job among the sports blogs of keeping your readers informed and engaged during the offseason. Great job.

Tarik El-Bashir: Fedorov showed at the end of last year that he can still be a force when he's inspired. And I've got the sense that he's feeling inspired again.

I do, however, wonder if he'll be able to play at that level for 82 games.

You're right. He's got all the intangibles. But he also needs to produce in the range of 60-70 points to justify making $4 million, in my opinion.


Sleepless in Springfield!: Tarik, Good to see the chats are back.

What do you think the chances of seeing Chris Bourque up with the big team semi-regularly are this season?

I think he outplayed Fehr, but waiver eligibility made it easier to send him back. What does he have to do to make it here permanently, or will it be next season before he can get a proper look?

Tarik El-Bashir: I also thought Bourque earned a spot on the team. Unfortunately for him, there was just no room for him (and the Caps weren't going to risk losing another player on waivers.)

Injuries will happen, and when they do, Bourque will probably be the first recalled.


Alexandria, Va.: Have you made a prediction yet? Where will the caps finish the year, and how many points?

Tarik El-Bashir: On Washington Post Live the other night I said they'll comfortably eclipse the 100-point mark. But they'll fall short in the Eastern Conference finals.

Winning a Cup is a process. Making the playoffs last year was the first step. Getting close and suffering some heartbreak will be the next step.


Bethesda, Md.: Tarik,

Unless my memory is totally destroyed, I think you had a pretty big error in your story this morning when you made reference to the Caps' division-clinching win in the last game of the season over Florida. Was that 3-1 victory not over the Hurricanes?

Tarik El-Bashir: Nope. They beat the Panthers, but eliminated Carolina.


Vienna, Va.: Hi Tarik, How soon do you think we'll see Karl Alzner with the Capitals? Will he be the first call up if a player is injured on defense? I was watching the Leafs/Red Wings game last night and they were starting Luke Schenn. I noticed that the second Red Wings goal by Holstrom was because Schenn couldn't clear Holstrom from the crease. Are the Caps concerned that Alzner doesn't have the physical strength for the NHL yet?

Tarik El-Bashir: Stength and experience had something to do with the decision to demote Alzner. But a lot it was because of the team's tight cap situation. He'll play in Washington -- and probably a lot -- before the end of the season.


Merrifield, Va.: Tarik, Why keep Erskine here in place of Lepisto or Alzner? Is he really better then either one of them? I think he looks shaky and out of position a lot. Thoughts?

Tarik El-Bashir: Caps management likes Erskine for his toughness. He's not a dirty player, but he's nasty enough that small, skilled forwards keep their heads on a swivel when he's out there.

Lepisto had the same problems he had last season when he was called up. He was shaky one period and solid the next. The difference between an AHLer and an NHLer is that the NHLer is consistent.


Va Beach, Va.: Tarik, Can you give us an opinion on Brash's role on this team. Many seem to think he is not as important as I do.


Tarik El-Bashir: Boudreau and team management loves Brashear. He's a leader in the room, a solid fourth liner with decent hockey sense, and most important, when he's in the lineup, you really don't have to worry about a thug from the opposing team going after Backstrom or Semin or Ovechkin or Green or Fleischmann.

Brashear may be 36, but he's still feared.


Leonardtown, Md.: What is your opinion on only carrying 6 defensemen and using Feds as a back up?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't think it's an ideal situation. What if a defenseman suffers an injury while the team is out west? And a Hershey call up can't make it to Phoenix in time? Fedorov goes on defense, but now you've disrupted the forward lines.


D.C.: Tarik,

Do we know FOR SURE who will be in net tonight?

Is BB going to rush Jose right into all three games in four nights?


Tarik El-Bashir: Boudreau said this morning that Jose will start tonight, but he wouldn't commit to a goalie for tomorrow night. I would be shocked, however, if anyone but Jose plays against Chicago.


Potomac, Md.: What's the solution to the Caps 'cap' problem?

I know Nylanders name is out there always... but isn't Kozlov more expendable?

Tarik El-Bashir: I know Kozlov drives a lot of fans nuts with his inconsistent efforts. But he's on way more often than he's off, and $2.5 million for a first line right wing is a bargain.


Oak Hill: Tarik, I made a $100 bet with a friend last year that Nicklas Backstrom would get 100 points in one of the next three seasons. Like my chances?

Tarik El-Bashir: Yep. Go ahead and spend that money now, 'cause you'll be collecting.


Sprinfield, Va.: Tarik,

Do you get a feeling that all the forwards are willing to get back and help out on defense?

Do you think this team will start believing their own press clippings?

Tarik El-Bashir: One thing you don't need to worry about with Boudreau is accountability. If he doesn't like something, it gets fixed.

As for the players reading their press clippings, I'm all for that. Newspapers need all the subscribers we can get these days.

_______________________ This concludes today's discussion. Thank you for joining in.


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