The Washington Capitals

Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 30, 2009 11:30 AM

With the second half of the season underway, Washington Post staff writer Tarik El-Bashir took your questions about the Caps and the rest of the NHL.

The transcript follows.

Full Coverage: Washington Capitals

Tarik's Blog: Capitals Insider


Tarik El-Bashir: Welcome back everyone. It's time for another hockey chat, and with the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in town tomorrow and the stretch drive almost upon us, I'm sure you've got lots of questions. So let's get right to them.


Fairfax, Va.: Hi Tarik, I'm a huge CAPS fan and very excited so far how we've played. My only concern is our goaltending. I just think that with Theodore in net it will be difficult for the Caps to go deep in the playoffs. Johnson is ok but neither guy has showed that "he is the guy that is going to take the team deep into the playoffs". What are your thoughts on this matter? Thank you.

Tarik El-Bashir: Goaltending WAS a legit concern about a month ago. But Jose Theodore has been a different player since getting yanked in New York on Dec. 23. That was a major wakeup call for him.

Theodore also has a history of getting better as they year progresses. Last year is a prime example of this. He was 21-13-2 after Jan. 1 with a 2.24 goals against average and a .919 save percentage. If he can duplicate those numbers this year -- and he's on track do just that -- goaltending won't be the team's major concern down the stretch.

That said, is Theodore still an elite goalie? Probably not. But if the Caps can get some consistency on the penalty kill and on the back end at even strenght, I think Theodore will be just fine come playoff time.


Fairfax, Va.: When did they change practice from 10:30 to 12:30 -- there sure were a lot of disappointed fans at Kettler today who showed up at 10:30.

Tarik El-Bashir: I didn't know about it until after last night's practice. I also saw the disappointed fans leaving KCI. The best thing to do before heading out is to check the team's website (that's what I do). They are usually very good about keeping practice times up to date.


Crofton, Md.: Will the Caps be willing to cut a veteran so that Alzner can stay up permanently ?

Tarik El-Bashir: I do not see that happening. The Caps have been very pleased with Alzner's development, but GM George McPhee does not seem to be in any hurry to make a move just so that the rookie defenseman can stay here fulltime.

That doesn't mean McPhee won't eventually make that move to clear enough cap space for Alzner, he's just not going to make a rash decision in order to accomplish that. McPhee also likes the idea of Alzner getting a little more seasoning in Hershey.


20772: Hey Tarik,

What's your take on the current special teams problems? Is it personnel? Tactics? A mixture of both?

Do you see the Caps being active at the trade deadline, despite being fairly handcuffed by the cap?

Tarik El-Bashir: Here are my feelings at the PK. Tactics aren't the problem. Personnel is.

The PK began its nosedive when Tom Poti went down. They got worse when Boyd Gordon went out for a few games. It has not recovered.

Poti's presence on the PK cannot be underestimated. For example: when John Erskine and Milan Jurcina are under pressure and have the puck while down a man, they often resort to banking the puck off the glass or making a hasty (and often poor) pass. We all know what happens after that. I hate to pick on Erskine and Jurcina, but they are the prime offenders.

When Poti has the puck on his stick, he calmly sidesteps trouble and then looks up to make a pass. If the pass isn't there, he skates the puck out of the zone. Poti also logs more minutes on the PK than anyone else.

I don't worry so much about the PP. But there are two things that need improvement. The Caps still lack the consistent net presence the top teams (like the Red Wings and Flyers) have. I also think Alex Ovechkin is most effective on the PP when he is NOT playing the point.


Bucharest, Romania.: Seriously, I'm in Bucharest for work, and on a plane tomorrow that gets into Dulles a half hour after the biggest game of the year starts, despite the fact that I have tickets. How much does that suck?

Tarik El-Bashir: Man, I am sorry to hear that. Here's what you do: Have a limo pick you up at arrivals, then go about 80 mph on the access road (just tell the driver to watch for cops; they are particularly sneaky out there). Take the GW Parkway to the city.

If all goes well, you could be there for the start of the third period.


Ocean City, Md.: The Caps, under McPhee's tenure have always been very tight lipped in regards to most front office dealings. Do you have to rely on other sources for trade possibilities , demotions/promotions,draft strategy, contract terms and so forth? This sort of information makes for very interesting reading for most fans. Just curious about your thoughts on it.

Tarik El-Bashir: Calling McPhee "tight lipped" is an understatement. He plays everything -- from injuries, to promotions to demotions to personnel moves regarding his scouting staff -- very close to the vest. Most people within the organization don't even want to be seen talking to a reporter.

So "inside" information almost always comes from folks "outside" of the organization.


Stone Ridge, Va.: Last year the Caps learned how much more intense the playoffs are over the regular season - do you think this year's team has what it takes to take their game to the next level to go deep into the playoffs?

Tarik El-Bashir: That's a great observation. The young players definitely learned a lot from last year's run. Unfortunately, I think they kind of ran out of gas by the time the playoffs started because for them, their playoffs actually started in mid-February.

This year promises to be different because they won't have to expend so much in February and March. So when the playoffs begin, the team should be able to crank it up a level. And after last year, they actually know what "cranking it up a level" involves.


Alexandria, Va.: John Erskine is a defensive liability due to his skating and poor decision-making with the puck. Why did the team extend his contract? I would have imagined his was the spot on D that the club would look to improve at the trade deadline with better overall talent.

Tarik El-Bashir: I disagree. Sure, Erskine is limited in his skating and stick handling. And because of that, he's not a top 4 defenseman. That said, he still has a lot of value and his $1.25 million salary (starting next season) really isn't that much for a player who strikes fear into the hearts of oppposing forwards, can be effective when his minutes are kept down (13 or 14) and can fight when needed.

Caps management also likes his "compete level" and thinks he still can improve.


Cologne, Germany: If Fedorov retires after this season and Nylander gets traded, do you think the Caps will sign a new center for the 2nd line in the summer?

Tarik El-Bashir: If both players are gone, the Caps will definitely have to go outside the organization for a second line center.


Darryl: Tarik,

Awesome job first of all, Love what you and Katie do.

My question is, How much practice is done with the Caps in thier own end. I see so many games where they have trouble getting the puck out of thier own zone and get caught running around. Also do you agree the Caps should pressure the guys on point when they are killing a power play. I see them way to laid back and letting other teams PP dictate how its going to be run?

Tarik El-Bashir: Pressuring the points sure does seem to work for Philly, doesn't it? Their PK is ranked seventh and they've scored a league leading 13 shorties.

It would seem to me the Caps have enough skill to employ the same strategy.


Reisterstown, Md.: Do you think Florida can keep up their play or will they fade like usual?

Tarik El-Bashir: All depends on what happens with Jay Bouwmeester. If he is traded -- as expected -- at the deadline, that's it for the Panthers.


Curl n Drag: When will Semin have a successful curl and drag on a breakaway?

Tarik El-Bashir: Sometimes I think he thinks he's playing in a video game. It's maddening. But as long as he scores 40 goals a season, I think his teammates will be willing to forgive him.


Ocean City, Maryland: I believe before coming to DC, you were the Islanders beat writer, correct? If so, what;s your take on the "mess" that is the current state of the Islanders?

Tarik El-Bashir: That is true. I have to admit I haven't followed them too closely since leaving. But they are still the same old shipwreck.

No new building (yet). They signed a pretty good goalie to a ridiculous contract (and now Rick DiPietro is hurt). They fired a good coach (Ted Nolan) and have a backup goalie as their GM (Garth Snow).

Things aren't looking all that bright in Uniondale. Although, John Tavares could help turn things around (if the Isles are so lucky as to get the No. 1 pick).


Gaithersburg, Md.: Hi Tarik, do you see Pothier coming back for the playoffs? Do you see the Caps making some trades before the deadline? thanks!

Tarik El-Bashir: Brian Pothier's progress in recent weeks has stunned a lot of people around here. In practice, he's up to speed and looks to be almost ready to start contributing. But when that happens is not up to him. It's up to the doctors. And they still have not given him the go-ahead to resume full contact yet.

I would be surprised to see him back this year. But that said, when I'm surprised everytime I see him in practice. So I guess we'll have to wait and see.

As for trades, there is a growing feeling around the Caps that this could be their year. And because of that, I do expect GM George McPhee to be active in seeking some help on the blue line.


Winchester, Va.: In response to the 2nd-line center question, do you think Laich could be the second line center with Steckel and Gordon manning lines 3 and 4??

Tarik El-Bashir: Brooks Laich continues to develop and is on his way to becoming a very good player. He does not, however, possess the skill and vision of a second line center on a top team.


New York, N.Y.: Every time I've watched the Caps this season I've always really liked the way David Steckel plays, yet he's been a healthy scratch on a number of occasions. Am I just missing something...?

Tarik El-Bashir: When the Capitals are fully healthy up front (as they are now) David Steckel is part of the rotation of bottom six forwards -- like Eric Fehr, Chris Clark and Boyd Gordon -- who will find themselves scratched from time to time.

Steckel definitely struggled a bit in November and Bruce Boudreau scratched him. But lately, it hasn't been because of his play. In fact, the past two times he was scratched, he had been awarded the hard hat by his teammates the game before.

I actually just asked Boudreau this very question because he was walking past as I was typing. He said: "Hey, ask that guy who I should scratch."


Washington, D.C.: Do you think the Caps will resign Kozlov for next year? I wasn't a huge fan at first, but I'm starting to realize how important he is to the top line. Plus Ovechkin seems pretty close with him.

Tarik El-Bashir: Kozlov's future with the Caps will likely be determined by his play over the next 33 games. And then in the playoffs. Remember, Kozlov has yet to score a goal in the postseason (in 21 games).


Bethesda, Md.: Any lingering problems for Ovie following that crash in the boards the other night?

Tarik El-Bashir: Nope. Alex seems to be fine. He went all out last night in Chevy Chase and he's out on the ice right now.


McLean, Va.: Tarik,

If McPhee could find a taker for Chris Clark, do you think he pulls the trigger? He is not playing very well, and it seems there have been other people taking on leadership roles. So while he wears the C, would the team really lose something if he is dealt?

Tarik El-Bashir: That's a tough question. But before McPhee could even consider trading Clark, he would have to have a taker first. And that, at this point, is unlikely.


Silver Spring, Md.: There has certainly been a dramatic improvement in the Cap's organizational depth over the last few years - the first few years of McPhee's drafting were pretty bad. What do you attribute this change to? How much of this can be attributed to better player development?


Tarik El-Bashir: McPhee's drafting was pretty poor in his first few seasons. That much is not up for debate. But since hitting the jackpot in 2004 with Alex Ovechkin, McPhee and director of amateur scouting Ross Mahoney have put together an impressive scouting system and significantly upgraded the scouting personnel. The results cannot be argued with.


Tarik El-Bashir: Folks, thanks for all of your questions. But I've got to run. Practice has started and I've got a blog to update and a story to write. Talk to you again soon.


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