Wednesday, Nov. 26, 11 a.m. ET

The Washington Capitals

Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 26, 2008; 12:00 PM

A fast start has the Caps near the top of the Eastern Conference. Washington Post staff writer Tarik El-Bashir was online Wednesday, Nov. 26 at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions about the keys to the team's early success and the likelihood that it continues.

The transcript follows.

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Tarik El-Bashir: Hello everyone and thanks for joining me today. Sorry I'm a bit late, but as you might have heard, there's a lot going on at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. So without any further delay, let's get to your questions.


Reston, Va.: Seems to me Johnny is still hurt... what are your observations?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't think Johnson is still hurt. He told me the other day that's feeling as good as he has all season. And he's generally honest about things like that.

Jose Theodore is getting the start tonight against Atlanta, however.


Alexandria, Va.: Any indication from McPhee or Boudreau why they called up Mink vs. other Hershey forwards?

Tarik El-Bashir: When the Caps make call-ups, they try to bring up players who are similar in style, and fill the same role as the player they are replacing. Mink is replacing Clark, and the two of them share many of the same attributes.


Clifton, Va.: Hey Tarik,

I've always been curious...when you cover the team on road trips,do you ever get invited to team functions, such as meals, or are you completely separate? Do you stay at their hotel? Nothing important, just something I was always curious about...

Tarik El-Bashir: Nope. I only see the players at the rink, just like at home. We rarely stay at the same hotel. As you know, I am all about the Marriott points, and the Caps usually stay at more upscale places.


Reston, Va.: With all the latest injuries, will the Nylander trade rumors be put to rest?

Tarik El-Bashir: I think it's safe to say those will be put on the backburner for now.


Gaithesburg, Md.: Tarik,

What's your take on the Alex Semin situation??? Will we see him on Friday when he can be activated? I think obviously with him in the lineup we are the team offensively at least that we aim to be.

And one other comment....Brooks Laich for the Norris trophy after his stint on D the other night, any takers?

Tarik El-Bashir: I'm starting to wonder about the Semin situation myself. Last weekend, all the talk was that he was going to be ready to return on Monday. Now he hasn't practiced in two days. Boudreau said Semin hasn't taken a step back, and that he's just resting. But the fact that he hasn't skated the past few days does raise questions.

Brooks Laich for the Norris? Probably not. But I could see him walking away with the team MVP award.


Washington, D.C.: Have you seen Alzner play much this season? If so what is your impression of his play and how confident do you feel about his chances of staying with the big club?

Tarik El-Bashir: Unfortunately, I have not seen him. I'm on the Caps beat seven days a week, so it's virtually impossible to sneak up to Hershey.

But from everything I've heard, he's been very, very solid.

I think he's got a good shot at sticking around now that the Caps have some space under the cap. But he's got to out-play Sami Lepsito for that to happen.


Rockville, Md.: I think GM McPhee has done a great job with putting together this team over the last few season, but the recent extension of Erskine puzzles me. Do you know what the organization sees in Big John vs. picking up a free agent towards the end/middle of the season like Ohlund or Bouwmeester?

Tarik El-Bashir: The Erskine extension was a bit of a head-scratcher to many people around the league. But Boudreau and McPhee both like him and believe he's going to keep improving.

Keeping Erskine does something else, too. If the Caps can't/don't bring back Brashear, they've got a willing fighter in Erskine. He's no heavyweight, but he can fight a little.


Washington, D.C.: What did the Caps think about their fans showing up on the West Coast?

Tarik El-Bashir: I didn't ask. But I did walk out of the tunnel in San Jose with Ovechkin for the morning skate. He looked across the rink, saw all the Caps jerseys and homemade signs and started to laugh. I don't think he could believe that Caps fans -- ones that he recognized, too -- had traveled all the way to Cali.


Manhattan: Tarik: thanks for your great coverage. What is the deal with Clark's new injury? Is it really LITR serious or do you suspect this is a convenient opportunity for McPhee to clear cap space for a while and give some of the young bucks a shot (Bourque and Alzner most notably)?

Tarik El-Bashir: A stress fracture is pretty serious. Serious enough that Clark is wearing a cast.

What I don't know is whether injuries of this kind normally take at least 24 days to heal. So it's tough to say if McPhee is using LTIR as a "convenient opportunity" to bring up Alzner.


Washington, D.C.: Does Boudreau think we have a clear No. 1 goalie right now? Can we even get a fair evaluation of their play given the number of defensive breakdowns leading to wide open scoring chances?

Tarik El-Bashir: That's a great point. How do you evaluate your goalies if many of the goals they are surrending are the result of missed coverages, failed clearing attempts and rebounds that should have been cleared away. Not to mention goals scored by your own defensemen. Okay, that last one was hitting below the belt.


Navy Yard: A quarter of the way through the season-what has been the Caps biggest story line so far? Besides Semin's verbal slamming of Sidney Crosby, of course!

Tarik El-Bashir: I wonder what the Caps are going to say to Semin if Sidney Crosby scores a hat trick against them?


Staten Island, N.Y.: What's the latest on Fedorov?

Tarik El-Bashir: Funny you should ask. He just limped past me. I don't think he's on IR, though. So I'm assuming the Caps are hoping he'll be back sooner rather than later.

Sprained ankles are a difficult injury for hockey players.


Ocean City, Md.: Tarik, I read somewhere recently that you played hockey. Can you provide a quick cliff notes version of your background as a player. Thanks.

Tarik El-Bashir: I was just telling Brooks Laich the other day that if they had composite sticks and lightweight skates back in my day, I might have made it to the Big Club.

No, not really.

I was a goalie, and a bad one at that. So bad, Redskins beat writer Jason La Canfora lit me up when we faced each other in high school. True story.


Broomfield, Colo.: What has been your favorite moment or story of the Caps season so far?

Tarik El-Bashir: Alex Ovechkin scoring with a second left in New Jersey. That was pretty crazy.


Washington, D.C.: Tarik - any short or long term update on Pothier?

P.S. - Columns and Insider postings are still top of the line. Stay healthy, as I don't know who we could call up from Hershey to fill your shoes..

Tarik El-Bashir: I spoke to Pothier at length a few weeks ago. He told me that he's making progress, but it's coming very slowly. He had just returned from seeing a specialist in Denver and said he still has dizzy spells and blurred vision, and it only gets worse when he tries to do anything strenuous on the ice.

So I'm guessing he won't be back anytime soon, if at all.


It's called stuffing, not dressing: How most of the Caps players (particularly Canadians and Europeans) spend Thanksgiving?

Tarik El-Bashir: If Bruce makes them practice on Thanksgiving -- right now there's a session scheduled for 11 -- that's what they'll be doing.

Me, too.

But even if I have to cover practice, it won't compare to last year, when I wrote a story about Glen Hanlon being fired between bites of turkey.


Alexandria, Va.: Of the four Hershey call-ups, who do you expect to have the biggest impact tonight?

Tarik El-Bashir: That's tough to say. More is expected of Alzner, but Lepisto and Bourque have recent experience up here. So I'm willing to bet they are going to be less nervous, and likely more prepared.


Charlottesville, Va.: Apparently a deal is in the works for Khabibulin to go to either New Jersey or Toronto. That would make room for Nylander. Who would you see coming back from Chicago if Nylander were dealt? Do you see any other possible moves?

Tarik El-Bashir: Several teams want Nylander according to my sources, with most of the interest coming from Chicago, Vancouver and St. Louis.

It's also no secret that the Caps would like to move the veteran center and his $4.875 cap hit. The team did fine without him last season, and he's clearly struggling to fit in this year.

But there's a wild card in this equation: He requested, and has, a no trade clause. He confirmed this for me on Monday, and a source in another organization also confirmed this for me.

That said, I could see him accepting a deal to Chicago, where he still has a home. Heck, his Benz still has Illinois plates.

But then the question becomes which players will be involved? I've studied both rosters, and I can't make it work for either team.


Washington, D.C.: Tarik, I'm heading up to Montreal in January to cheer on the Caps there. How hostile will the environment there be towards some fans in Caps jerseys, compared to the reaction I would be getting someplace like Philly or Pittsburgh?

Tarik El-Bashir: You will see plenty of Montreal-based fans wearing Ovechkin jerseys. But you should prepare for a little heckling.

I've been there a few times when the American anthem has been booed.


Great Falls, Va.: I know this seems super random (and not related to the recent call-ups, injury situation, trades that we need to make) but I've been wondering for a while...

Do NHL teams travel with their own pucks for pre-game skates and practices? Do the pucks belong to a specific team, or to the league? How does it work that a visiting player who hits a landmark (first goal, thousandth point, whatever) gets to keep the puck? Do they just work on the honor system that it'll all balance out eventually? My team travels with our own pucks most of the time, and it's pretty important that we keep track of them all if we can.

Tarik El-Bashir: The home team supplies the pucks. As you probably already know, they also keep them frozen.

As for keepsake pucks, refs and teammates are usually aware of when someone is getting close to milestone or gets their first goal. Sometimes you'll see a player fish the puck out of the net and take it over to the bench. It then gets handed to a PR person, who then usually gets it framed. It's then presented to the player.


Arlington, Va.: How do you think the Wizards poor start will affect the Caps tickets sales this season?

Tarik El-Bashir: If you are being serious, I'm not sure there's a whole lot of crossover from NBA to NHL fans. At least that's what I'm told.


Baltimore: Which players among the West Coast teams impressed you the most?

Tarik El-Bashir: L.A. rookie defenseman Drew Doughty is a boy amongst men. But he didn't look the least bit out of place. In addition to scoring a goal, I thought he was awesome in his own end and on the breakout all game.


Germantown, Md.: 20 games into the season, and with injuries mounting, the Caps deficiencies have become clearer. What do you think those deficiencies are and how do you think they'll be addressed. Finally, will that result in a playoff caliber team, or just a team capable of squeaking into the postseason?

You do a great job, and you are much appreciated, as is your new co-worker, Katie. Have a great holiday.

Tarik El-Bashir: I think the biggest deficiency has been the defense. It's been downright horrible in a few games.

I think at some point GM George McPhee is going to have to make a trade to a) clear some cap space so Alzner can learn the ropes up here and b) perhaps being in a rugged veteran.

I've said over and again, the one player the Caps never replaced during the rebuild was Brendan Witt. In his prime, there wasn't a forward in the league who wasn't worried for their personal well being when he was on the ice.

The Caps desperately need someone like him.


20772: What's your gut take on Nylander? Is it just a matter of time before he's headed elsewhere?

Also, who is your early season surprise thus far?

Tarik El-Bashir: As you probably read in today's Post, I've been most impressed with Tomas Fleischmann's emergence. I was kind of down on him last year, and I couldn't understand why the Caps were in such a hurry to re-sign him.

Now I'm seeing why. I still think he's a millisecond slow sometimes. But once he gets completely up to speed, gets the puck off a half second faster, reads the defense a half-second faster, learns to beat the defenseman in the corner with his craftiness, he's going to be special.


Tampa, Fla.: What's your take on the Lightning firing Barry Melrose? The press down here thinks Melrose couldn't adjust to the system approach, in which every player has very specific responsibilities in every possible situation. Melrose was thought to have been of the old school, just send out your guys and have them work harder than the other team.

The new coach, Tochet, is a real systems guy.

Tarik El-Bashir: That's all true. But I also think that he didn't play favorites. And that there were a few high-end guys who were used to getting a free pass.

When Melrose began holding them to the same standard as everyone else, they ran him out of town.


Washington, D.C.: Tarik, Happy Thanksgiving!

Given the injuries to the blue line corps, can we expect to see Karl Alzner called up?

By the way, how has he been doing in Hershey?

Tarik El-Bashir: Alzner is up. Check my blog. I've got the latest on the injuries and all the call-ups.


Limited Holiday Budget, Everywhere: Was it a mistake to order that Jeff Shultz fathead?

Tarik El-Bashir: That's cold and uncalled for. But funny.


Tarik El-Bashir: Thanks for stopping by today. As usual, there were tons of great questions. I got to as many as possible.

Anyway, have a happy and safe Thanksgiving.


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