The Washington Capitals: Ovechkin-Crosby, Trade Deadline Moves, Prospects for Pronger?

Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 26, 2009 12:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Tarik El-Bashir took your questions about the Caps, the growing Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry and the rest of the NHL.

The transcript follows.

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Tarik El-Bashir: Hello everyone and thanks for stopping by this afternoon. Lots going on today in Capsland, and with the trade deadline just around the corner, we've got plenty of ground to cover. So let's get started.


Bethesda, Md.: Tarik - Any chance we'll see Pothier this year? How does he look during the drills and practices he is participating in?

Tarik El-Bashir: Brian is getting closer to returning. But even he can't say for sure whether he'll be back this season. He still must receive medical clearance from Dr. James Kelly, and then he'll need two or three weeks to get into game shape.

Brian also hasn't taken a real hard hit yet. And until he does, no one knows what's going to happen.

So that's my longwinded way of saying I would be surprised to see him suit up for a game this season. A really deep postseason run, however, would increase the odds.


Ft. Bragg, Calif.: Who will start in goal tonight?

Tarik El-Bashir: Michal Neuvirth will get his second career start tonight. That means Jose will get the weekend against Boston and Florida. Makes perfect sense to me.


Falls Church, Va.: Good Afternoon Tarik and thank you for doing another chat today!

Do you think the Caps would have a better chance at winning Lord Stanley's Cup if we had more cowbell?

Tarik El-Bashir: "I've got a fever, and the only prescription... is more cowbell!!"

I must admit, I love Christopher Walken. I crack up every time that comes on.


Great Falls, VA: Tarik: Is it just me or do the Caps commit more delay of game penalties by shooting the puck over the glass than any team in the NHL? I swear they've done it 8-10 times in the past month and I have rarely seen our opponents do it. Is this going to become a point of emphasis? Seems like such a silly penalty.

Tarik El-Bashir: It's not just you. They do it way too much. And here's my theory: Ovechkin, Semin and a few others put a lot of curve on their stick blades. Curve, of course, helps them gets their shots up when they're in tight. I'm thinking it might also have something to do with the delay of game/puck over glass penalties.

Whatever it is, though, it's gotta stop.


Fairfax, VA: In your honest opinion, is JT really the goalie that can take this team deep in the playoffs? If not...who is avaiable come March 4th, and is that even an option for GMGM?

Tarik El-Bashir: Jose has been pretty good the past two months. But I still think he needs to be good/great on a more consistent basis for the Caps to hoist the Cup.

The thing that turned around Jose's season was the hip injury. He used that time to make some adjustments to his game. The biggest adjustment he made was focusing more on the first shot and THEN worrying about the second shot, rather than trying to anticipate the second shot before the first one is even taken. When he's worried about the rebound before it happens, that's when he looks shaky out there. It's like he's trying to do too much.

He got into a zone late last month and earlier this month. But I've noticed a few times recently that he's gotten back to trying to anticipate, rather than making the first save and then trusting his reflexes and defense to help him make the second one.

That said, I do think the Caps will be in the market for a goalie next week. Perhaps not a No. 1 -- though Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom might be available -- at the very least a vet. No. 2 as a backup plan just in case Theodore gets hurt or struggles.


Richmond, Va.: Hey Tarik.

Have the coaches spoke to Nicklas Backstrom about his physical play? Because every since the Colorado game, he has been making good hits. Caps' Backstrom Develops Away From Spotlight

Tarik El-Bashir: That's a great observation. While Nicklas will never be a physical threat the way Ovechkin is, he's got a mean streak in him and he's really starting to get comfortable out there. That's why you're seeing an increase in his physical play.

Like I said, Backstrom won't become a big hitter. But he is on his way to becoming a sneaky one a la Peter Forsberg, one of his childhood idols.


Gaithersburg, Md.: Tarik, It seems that of all players, Boudreau is getting most frustrated with Semin's penalties. Do you think this can affect their relationship to the point that the coach would bench him for some time? Do they still communicate via Kozlov?

Tarik El-Bashir: Boudreau is certainly frustrated with Semin's penalties. And yes, I do think it can complicate their relationship. It's already hard for Bruce to know what Semin is thinking because of the language barrier, and it's even harder when the two can't sit down and have a heart to heart.


Springfield, Va.: Tarik,

Thank you for great coverage and please let Kattie know she is appreciated for all that she does as well. My question I have for you is. What do the Caps see in Shultz? Last year even Olie said if the kid got a little mean streak he would be awesome, and I would have to think that GMGM is looking to upgrade the defense. Your thoughts?

Tarik El-Bashir: I know Schultz has become a favorite whipping boy for fans because he's big and doesn't hit. He also had a rough night against the Flyers.

But the truth is Schultz does a lot right on a nightly basis that goes unnoticed. He's big, he's smart, has a great stick and can move the puck. He's also 23, and management sees a lot of upside in him. I tend to agree.


Washington DC: WE WANT THE HOCKEY SONG. For goodness sakes, a Caps game without that is like a Cubs game without "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." I had a sweatshirt made with WE WANT THE HOCKEY SONG all over it. Signed, A Sad Season Ticket Holder, Section 417

Tarik El-Bashir: I'll pass that along to the in-game entertainment crew. But if it comes down to "Cowbell", "Unleash the Fury" or "The Hockey Song", I can tell you right now which of the three ain't gonna make it.


Baltimore loves the Caps: Hey Tarik,

With Felischmann having a great season (although not as of late), do you think he is someone the Caps would dangle at the deadline? I know that he is a product of Boudreau somewhat, so I would think (and hope) that he would stay and sign a bigger deal. His potential is super high.

Tarik El-Bashir: Yes. I do think he's the exactly type of player the Caps would "dangle" as you said. Fleischmann, by the way, has one goal in the past 16 games.


Darnestown, Md.: If the Caps meet the Flyers in the playoffs this year, what do they need to do to get past them?

Tarik El-Bashir: If that happens, the Caps could be on the golf course sooner than they would have hoped. What the Caps need to get past the Flyers is a Chris Clark type up front and a Chris Pronger type on the backend. Clark, we know, isn't coming back. Pronger, however, ...


Baltimore: Tarik, Is Alexander Semin learning English? Can we expect to hear from him directly any time soon?

Tarik El-Bashir: Semin doesn't go out of his way to talk to the local media, so it's tough for me to say to what degree his English has improved.

I also have not seen him having long conversations with his English-speaking teammates or coaches. I'm not saying those conversations don't take place, they just never seem to happen when I'm around.


Arcola, Va.: Of the likely first-round opponents, who would the Caps like to play and who would they like to avoid?

Tarik El-Bashir: Buffalo is the one team I think the Caps want to avoid in the first round. I don't know what it is about the Sabres and HSBC Arena, but the Caps don't do well agains them, especially up there.


Germantown, Md.: Hey Tarik

What are the chances of Chris Clark being around after this year? Thanks

Tarik El-Bashir: I think Clark will return next year. He's the captain, and as Boudreau said, that's not changing. And besides, he would be next to impossible to move right now given his injury history.


Washington, DC 20009: We DO NOT want the hockey song to return!

Tarik El-Bashir: I wasn't going to say it.


Silver Spring, Md.: So did I hear a Fleishman for Pronger trade rumor?

Tarik El-Bashir: Stop it!


Arlington, Va.: Tarik,

With Chris Clark out, who is filling the role of the motivator in the locker room? The last couple of losses, and the increase in penalties, seem to point to a lack of individual discipline and motivation. Is anyone stepping up to try and lead this team the way Clark used to?

Tarik El-Bashir: That's a great question. Boudreau talked about leadership this morning. He said a lot of the leadership comes from the younger players like Ovechkin and Backstrom and older players like Poti and Fedorov. But none of them are vocal.

Boudreau pretty much said he would like someone to step forward and take on the vocal leadership role in the room. If I had to pick someone, I would hand the job to Fedorov.


D.C.: Tarik - I love the fact that the Caps can call on Hershey players to plug in holes when a Cap goes down. But which Hershey players do you seen as breaking into the top 2 lines in the near (or not too distant) future?

Tarik El-Bashir: There are a lot of prospects I would like to see get a chance up here next season. But if I had to pick one, I would go with Chris Bourque. I went to Hershey twice in the past week for games and he's got a gear and a level of competitiveness that makes me want to see him get an extended look up here. Whether that will happen or not, remains to be seen. But the clock is ticking on him. You're only a prospect for so long.


Georgetown, DC: Hey Tarik,

Thanks again for all your hard work! Love reading your stuff!

Any word on how Brent Johnson is doing and if there's a timetable for his potential return?

Tarik El-Bashir: I've haven't seen Brent since last week. But I hear he's doing fine. I would, however, be surprised to see him play again this season. The damage to his hip was more extensive than the doctors thought.

Also, put yourself in his shoes. He had a pretty good year. He needs a new deal. Why come back and risk a) reinjuring the hip or b) playing poorly? Right now, if the rehab goes according to plan, he'll be ready for next season, and whether it's here or somewhere else, he's probably earned himself a nice little raise from the $800K he's earning.


Rockville, Md.: Under what circumstances would John Carlson get a sweater in the playoffs? He was terrific in the preseason and lighting it up in London.

Tarik El-Bashir: Carlson can join the Caps or Bears for the playoffs, and I could see that happening when London's season is over. But I also think the only way Carlson gets into a game in Washington in the playoffs is if there are a ton of injuries on the blueline.


Washington DC: Nylander and Semin both looked horrible against the Flyers on Tuesday, now that Kozlov is back, what will the 2nd and 3rd lines look like?

Tarik El-Bashir: The Caps no longer show their lines during the morning skate and the players are instructed not to talk to me about them. But I can tell you that Nylander is most likely going to be a healthy scratch and that Kozlov is probably going to be on the top line with Ovechkin and Backstrom.


MMA on Ice!: Will Brash ever find a willing dance partner again this season?

Tarik El-Bashir: I was a bit surprised that Eric Godard declined his invitation on Sunday.


Alexandria, VA: The last few weeks Caps management have been making a not-so-subtle effort to try to get the crowd to respect the National Anthem. Unfortunately, on Tuesday night I felt like the crowd was more disrespectful than ever before. Have you ever talked to Ted about this whole thing? What does he think about the apparent backfiring of this effort?

Tarik El-Bashir: I'm also not a big fan of cheering or yelling during the anthem. But it happens so much at so many arenas now, I'm not sure that anything can really be done to stop it. Folks pay a lot for their tickets, and some of them believe that entitles them to do/say/scream whatever they want. They're wrong, but that's how some fans feel unfortunately


Leesburg, VA: Where did Brash grow up? I know his bio says he was born in Indiana, but when Smokin' Al interviewed him the other night he came across sounding French Canadian - did his family move to Montreal when he was young?

Tarik El-Bashir: You are right. Brashear was born in Indiana but raised near Montreal. He had a pretty tough upbringing from the stories I've read.


Fairfax, Va.: Our seats are next to the press box, which is pretty cool when there's a review of a goal -- we always know the outcome way before the rest of the crowd. A small reward for sitting in the nosebleeds. How different is the atmosphere in the press box compared to a year or so ago, and who the heck are all those people, besides the beat reporters of the two teams?

Tarik El-Bashir: There are a lot of people in the box these days. Most are reporters, either print or broadcast. But the box also hosts scouts, scratched players, PR folks for both teams, interns and bloggers. There are also 3-5 people on a given night that I'm convinced have absolutely no business being up there. But whatever. As long as they aren't cheering or blocking my view, doesn't matter much to me.


Vienna, Va.: TEB...If the score in Phoenix was "The Goal," then the one against Montreal must have been "The Sequel"...can you comment on what was said about that goal.

Tarik El-Bashir: I would have to say that the consensus around the league is that Ovechkin's Phoenix goal was better. Alex himself says the Phoenix goal was better.

I, however, disagree. Ovechkin and I even had a small argument about it. To me, there was a lot of luck involved in the Phoenix goal. The Montreal goal, on the other hand, was mostly skill and determination.

But I guess you have to go with the genius who scored both of them. If Alex says the Phoenix goal was better, then I guess the Phoenix goal was indeed better.


College Hockey Fan: I love the Caps but also am a big college hockey follower. The 2009 Frozen Four is in D.C. this year but I haven't seen any information about ticket sales? Do you know if/when tickets will go on sale to the public?

Thanks for all your great reporting on the Caps and hockey.

Tarik El-Bashir: Try the Capitals' web site. Or call the Caps directly at 202 266 2200. I'm sure someone can help you out.


Sterling, Va.: Do the players ever make fun of Backstrom for looking like a girl in the opening video they show before the games?

Tarik El-Bashir: That's cold.


Silver Spring, Md.: Nylander's ineffectiveness? His fault or result of moving from line to line? And, are the CAPS going to shop him and are there any takers?

Varmalov -- how seriously is GMGM concerned about his tendency to be injured. Is part of it that Varmalov has yet to learn how to pace his game, be more strategic, instead of relying on acrobatics? Theo seems not to move..but makes the stops.

Tarik El-Bashir: The Caps would love to move Nylander if they can. The problem is that he's a tough player to trade right now. Moving from line to line doesn't help, but he hasn't proven that he deserves to stay on any line. The scouts I've talked to recently say that he's lost a step sometime in the past year.

And yes, the Caps are very concerned about Varlamov's injury problems. They are hoping that his body simply gets used to the increased workload that he's going to face in N.A. If not, the injuries could become a problem.


Tarik El-Bashir: Thanks for joining me this afternoon. As usual, there were a ton of questions I simple could not get to because of time contraints. See you next time.


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