Tuesday, March 10 at 2 p.m. ET

Will the Washington Capitals End Losing Streak?

Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 10, 2009; 3:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Tarik El-Bashir took your questions about the Caps, Washington Post staff writer Tarik El-Bashir takes your questions about the Caps, losers of four consecutive games, as they prepare to play Nashville. Why has the team stumbled, and what will it take to turn it around?

The transcript follows.

Full Coverage: Washington Capitals

Tarik's Blog: Capitals Insider


Tarik El-Bashir: Greetings from Music City, where it's partly sunny and about 80 degrees. It might not feel like hockey weather, but you had better believe both teams will be all business tonight. The Caps are aiming to snap a four game skid while the Preds are trying to hang onto eighth place in the West. Big, big game for both clubs.

Now, on to your questions.


Chicago: Has anyone spoken to Pothier about his first few games in Hershey? How's it going? Can we expect him to be an impact player during the playoffs?

Tarik El-Bashir: From what I've heard and read, Brian has not had any setbacks, which is the biggest thing right now. If he remains 100-percent healthy, I would imagine that he'll stay in Hershey until he (and management) are comfortable with him returning to Washington.

As for his impact in the playoffs, that's a tough one. It will have been 15 months since his last NHL game. Asking him to step in and assume 20 minutes a night would be a tall order. But his experience alone would be a bonus for a blue line that has looked mighty green most of the season. He's a lot like Poti in that he's a smooth skater and he moves the puck out of trouble areas with precision and confidence.


Washington, D.C.: Tarik,

Do you have a sense of how are the players reacting to the slump?

Tarik El-Bashir: I've noticed some tension in the room that certainly hasn't been there since this time last year. There's less horsing around and more of a businesslike feel around the Caps these days.

The players are well aware of their challenge the next two games -- at Nashville and at Philly -- and they know Carolina is coming on strong.

I wouldn't say they are nervous as a group. But if things don't go well tonight, it could be a different story heading into Wachovia Center.


Chevy Chase, Md.: Hi Tarik,

Do you think Simeon Varlamov will swap places with Michal Neuvirth at some point this season (once healthy of course)?

Tarik El-Bashir: I do think that will happen. While Varlamov and Neuvirth are about the same age, Varlamov has more experience against playing against grown men. He also has more playoff experience -- it all came in Russia -- but that's still important this time of year.


Huntington, WV: Is Chris Clark coming back this year?

Tarik El-Bashir: I've definitely seen an increase in the level of Clark's on-ice workouts the past week. He's been skating hard on his own before the team practices. But he's still got a cast on his arm, and he told me last week that he *could* come back late in the second round.

He addressed the Caps in the room right after Sunday's game. The basic message, I'm told, was one of support and reassurance. It caught some of the players by surprise. But they were glad he did it.


Cleveland Park: Hi Tarik-

Can you give us any more insight into the Bill Guerin trade? You said your sources with the Caps told you that Guerin was not coming to the Caps, but TSN, CBC and others were pretty sure that Guerin was going to come here. What happened exactly?

Anyway, great job covering the Caps! Your blog is the best!

Tarik El-Bashir: I heard the rumors, too. But when I checked with my sources in Washington I was told that a bunch of players were being discussed but that Bill Guerin was not one of them.

Sometimes GM's will plant stuff in the media leading up to the deadline in an effort build false value and drive up the price for their player. Is that what happened? I don't know. But it's certainly possible.

In retrospect, however, I've talked to a few people around the league who believe Guerin would have been a great fit for the Caps.


Washington DC: It seems Peter Bondra has been more visible around the team lately. What's up, have you heard of any plans to retire his jersey in the near future?

Tarik El-Bashir: I have not heard of any plans to retire his jersey. But Peter still lives in Annapolis, and last I heard was still the GM of Team Slovakia. So I have to imagine that he's scouting his country's players when they come through Verizon Center.


Rockville, MD: It seems like GM had been trying to move Nylander's contract for a while leading up to the trade deadline. It appears that there was either a lack of interest in other teams acquring him or he declined to waive his non-movement clause. Has this caused issues in the locker room with the team's chemistry?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't think Nylander is causing any waves in the room. But he has never really seemed that connected to players around him, anyway. He's a lot older than the current core, and he's a dedicated family man.

I do think Michael would have waived his NMC clause for the right situation. But a trade never materialized.


Stone Ridge, VA: I know Steinz talked about it last week, but what's your take from the team in terms of fans' and their booing (or you general two cents on it)?

Tarik El-Bashir: I'm not a big fan of booing the home team. Especially when it still is in first place in the division and fifth in the league.

I'm not paying big bucks to sit down low at VC. So I'm not sure how I would feel if I thought the Caps weren't giving me my money's worth. But I can tell you this: players hear the boos and it does have an effect on their play.


Towson, MD : Tarik - which of the following two lines do you like seeing the most on a daily basis? Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin or Ovechkin-Backstrom-Kozlov? The first has some unbelievable rushes at times but I like the balance Kozlov brings to the latter. If Kozlov is gone next year, who do you think is going to fill that spot (like VK has) for Ovy and Backstrom?

Thanks for the hard work and keeping us up to date!

Tarik El-Bashir: Here are my thoughts on the top line:

Ovechkin needs the puck to be happy and productive. Semin needs the puck to be happy and productive. There's only one puck.

Semin also has more chemistry with Fedorov than he does with Backstrom. Not sure why that is. It just is.


Washington, DC: Can you discuss the impact of the Toronto trade on Olie Kolzig? Have you talked to him about how this affects him personally?

Tarik El-Bashir: That's a great question. I plan to text Olie when things settle down and get his thoughts on the trade. Keep an eye out for a blog post in the near future.


Rockville, MD: Tarik,

Is Brooks Leich the next captain of the Caps in training?

Tarik El-Bashir: If Brooks does not become captain, he certainly deserves a job as team spokesman. He is one of the best quotes in hockey, even if his mouth moves a mile per minute. Honestly, he's the fastest talker I've ever interviewed. I have to listed to my recorder twice when transcribing his quotes to make sure I didn't miss anything.


Mclean, VA: I know this is a bit of a hard-to-address subject... but it appears that the Caps' players are as concerned about the referees during the games as they are about the opposing team. Do you think the constant penalty trouble is knocking the players off their game plan a little? How could the team clear their heads from that echoing whistle?

Tarik El-Bashir: I have noticed that there has been an increase in talking between Caps and refs. And that's definitely not a good thing.

But at the same time, I don't recall a season in which the refereeing has been so inconsistent from period to period, from game to game. It would drive me nuts, too.


New York, NY: I know the Capitals are keeping Karl Alzner down in Hersey partially due to a desire to keep his GP below 40 (to delay a season of free agency). How do playoff games factor into this calculation? Does McPhee plan to keep one the top 6 defenseman in the organization on the Bears to save money, even in a playoff situation?

Tarik El-Bashir: I can't imagine a scenario where Karl won't be back for the playoffs, since salary cap issues won't be a factor. But as GM George McPhee said, the Caps can't squeeze both Alzner and Pothier under the ceiling during the regular season.


Canada: After Spezza's stick measuring penalty last night, do you think more teams will be trying to catch people? How does this affect the Caps, specifically Ovechkin and Semin?

Tarik El-Bashir: I'm sure someone has talked to both Alexes about this today.


I wanna be like you...: How does one break into the world of sports writing, specifically hockey?

Tarik El-Bashir: With all the turmoil in the economy and newspaper business, this is a tough time to land a beat writer gig. But if you are interested, send me an email by clicking on my byline and I'd be glad to help in any way I can.


Baltimore, MD: Tarik,

Do you think that Don Cherry crossed the line with his recent comments about Ovechkin. He has been a popular hockey figure in Canada since long time ago. There are might be lots of NHL players from Canada who used to idolize him when they were kids and still like him now. Do you think that Cherry's comments about "cutting Ovechkin in half" may push some of these players to start hunting for Ovechkin's head especially if this would be the only way for some of them to make highlights. Do you think that NHL should something about it?


Tarik El-Bashir: I think everyone has come to expect outrageous comments and opinions from Don Cherry. That's what he sells. And while I don't agree with half of what he says, every Saturday night when I'm not covering a game, I'm sitting in front of the tube waiting for Coach's Corner to come on. I view it as entertainment more so than serious commentary.

What I don't get is how a man who makes his living drawing attention to himself (with his suits and his words) can say anything about a player who does the same. Then again ...

That's exactly the reaction Cherry is hoping to elicit.


Clifton, Va.: Does it look like Sexy---errr...Jose...Theodore is starting to fight the puck a little more? I am not pinning this losing streak on him, but I also feel he hasn't really "stolen" a win for the Caps. I'm starting to worry about our goaltending again in the playoffs...a goalie needs to be able to steal a game here or there for his team. Even Osgood stole a couple last season for the Wings.

Tarik El-Bashir: You're right. It has been a while since Jose has stolen a game. But by not making a move at the deadline, the Caps have handed him the keys.

You're also not the only person worrying about Jose's ability to lead the Caps to a championship. But the sentiment around here goes like this: when the Caps are on top of their game they don't need him to steal games, they just need him to make the saves that he's got make.

We'll know soon enough if that faith in him is well-founded.


Hockey Superstitions: Ok, I know everyone has them. But I was on vacation for a week and they started to loose.

I have caught the tail end of some games and they loose.

I fell asleep (bad hangover) on Sunday and Crosby wins it.

If I watch a game from start to end, they win.

What to do?

Tarik El-Bashir: A real caps fan wouldn't have to ask this question.


Falls Church, Va.: Tarik, do you have any insight on why the team continues to play and praise Schultz? I fail to see any good defensive hits and or plays from him. Thanks.

Tarik El-Bashir: Jeff has struggled during this skid, as have a lot of his teammates. The Caps have shown a lot of faith in him this season, but he needs to pick up his game. Because with Alzner and/or Pothier due back soon, the blue line is going to get crowded.

I don't know if it's just not in his makeup or what, but I know I'm not the only person who wants to see big Jeff starting hitting someone. Anyone.


Washington, DC: In a recent game, a goal was waived off because of contact with Jose. Otherwise there was no call go goaltender interference. Can you explain the difference between the incidental contact and the interference penalty?

Tarik El-Bashir: It's in the rule book. A goal can be disallowed if a player prevents a goaltender from playing the puck. The offending player, though, doesn't have to be assessed a penalty.

Doesn't make sense to me. But I'm not consulted by the rules committee.

It's just like diving infractions. How can the ref call tripping AND diving? It's one or the other, right?

Rant over.


Falls Church: Since the Caps passed on making any trades, is there anyone among the current lineup of defensemen (in DC or Hershey) who could better clear things out in front of the net? Boudreau rightly talked about crashing the net on offense, but the same need exists on defense.

Tarik El-Bashir: I think John Erskine and Milan Jurcina (sometimes) have the right mentality for clearing out the front with authority. The problem is John seems to get a penatly every time he attempts to clear out the front, and Milan doesn't always seem willing to do it.

It's definitely a deficiency that needs to be addressed.


Manassas, Va: Will the Capitals end their losing streak?

Tarik El-Bashir: They had better for their own sake. A loss tonight would really hurt their collective psyche heading into Philly.


Washington, D.C.: Tarik - I was disappointed we did not do anything to improve our team. Granted there were not a lot of options. Guerin seems to have helped the Pens, I think he would have helped here also.

Has our team gotten soft? What happened to the blue collar team we seemed to have ealier this year but has now disappeared?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't think the Caps have gone soft. I think they've lost that sense of urgency that a lot of their opponents seem to have these days. Look around the league. It's happening to a bunch of division leaders. Boston has struggled. San Jose has slumped. Detroit got blown out a couple of times.


Tarik El-Bashir: Thanks for stopping by this afternoon. I hope to do this more often as the postseason approaches. So keep an eye out for more chats. Talk to you again soon.


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