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The Washington Capitals: Playoffs 2009

Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 15, 2009 2:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer and Capitals Insider blogger Tarik El-Bashir was online Wednesday, April 15, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss the Washington Capitals and the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

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Tarik El-Bashir: Hello everyone and thanks for joining me for today's hockey chat, the first of the 2009 playoff season. It's been a while, so we've got lots of catching up to do. Let's get started.

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Baltimore, Md.: Will you be rocking the red tonight?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't look good in red. So no.

But from what I read on Dan Steinberg's DC Sports Bog, some of the Caps will be rocking red hair tonight. If you haven't wandered over there, do it now. It's funny stuff.

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Laurel, Md.: Tarik, thanks for your great coverage of the Caps. What is up with Brian Pothier? I thought he was playing well and now I hear he may be a healthy scratch? Why don't they ever scratch Jeff Schultz?

Tarik El-Bashir: Schultz was scratched near the end of the regular season. So he did take a seat once.

As for Pothier, I was a little surprised that he's the odd defenseman out tonight. When I asked Coach Bruce Boudreau why he made that decision, he danced around the question and never really answered it.

From what I've observed, Pothier has had some good shifts and some shaky ones, some decent games and a couple of subpar ones. Which is to be expected for a player who missed almost 15 months.

Perhaps Boudreau was worried about throwing Pothier into the playoffs after skating mostly against bottom-feeding teams. I don't expect Pothier to be a regular scratch, though. I'm thinking he'll get in sooner rather than later.

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Atlanta, Ga.: What will it take for Boudreau to replace Theo with Varly?

Tarik El-Bashir: Boudreau really wants Theodore to play well. All of the Caps want Theodore to play well. But I don't think he's going to have that long of a leash. As we've seen, Boudreau -- for better or worse -- has little patience with his goalies.

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Reston, Va.: Can't wait for tonight.

With Clark being cleared to play, how do you anticipate that playing out? Does he get an automatic playing spot? Does someone have to misstep? Does he start at the bottom?

Tarik El-Bashir: I think it's going to depend on how the team performs. Clark doesn't get an automatic spot. But if the Caps struggle or a particular player isn't getting it done, he'll get in.

But I do believe there will be some hesitation on Boudreau's end, however. Clark has the assets the Caps have lacked this season -- leadership, grit up front and agitator qualities. But he's only played 50 games over the past two seasons. There's no way to know if he'll be an improvement.

That said, there's only one way to find out.

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Chantilly, Va.: Tarik, Love your coverage of the Caps! How is the ice and is it new or the same as the Frozen 4?

Go Caps

Tarik El-Bashir: I haven't been to Verizon Center yet. But I can tell you this: both teams are used to playing on bad ice. MSG's ice is awful.

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Washington, D.C.: Have the Caps completely shut the door on Johnny for the playoffs, or is there a chance they would go to him if Theo continues his recent track record of +3 GAA and sub .900 save percentage that he showed at the end of the season? Varlamov is a great asset on the bench, but is he the guy Bruce wants if we really need to shut someone down?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't think the door has been shut on Johnson. But I don't think he's as far along as he would have hoped by now. He's still two (or more) weeks away from being ready to return.

As I wrote in a story last week, Boudreau said he has full confidence in Varlamov and would not hesitate to turn to the rookie if the situation called for it. After all, he's 4-0-1 with a 2.37 gaa and .918 Sv%.

But Theodore would have to suffer an injury or really, really struggle for that to happen.

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Chantilly, Va.: What's the word on Gordo? Is he going to go? If he's out and Brash is out, why did they send Aucoin back to Hershey?

Tarik El-Bashir: Gordon said he's good to go, and with Brashear out, that means he's back in. Boudreau didn't show his lines this morning, but I'm guessing it will be Steckel-Gordon-Bradley on the fourth.

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Columbia, Md.: Obviously everyone in D.C. will be focusing on the Caps/Rangers series, but there are definitely some other even more interesting series around the league. Which one will you be watching closely, Pens/Flyers, Devils/'Canes, 'Nucs/Blues, Wings/Jackets??

Tarik El-Bashir: I love the Pens-Flyers matchup. That's going to be a good (and bloody) one. I also think there's some upset potential in the Devils-Hurricanes series. so I'll be keeping a close eye on that one, too.

Nothing in the West intrigues me too much. I do think it would be entertaining to see Steve Mason make the 'Wings sweat a bit.

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Washington, D.C.: What elements do the Rangers have an upper hand in, and, what should the Caps be primarily focused on tonight?

Tarik El-Bashir: The Rangers have a great penalty kill and superb goaltending. Both of those could become issues for the Caps, who sometimes rely too much on the power play and don't consistently create traffic in front.

As I wrote in today's paper, if Henrik Lundqvist can see the shot, he's going to stop it.

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washingtonpost.com: This Hockey Is a Whole New Game (Post, April 15)

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Silver Spring via Sec 420: Tarik,what would the effect of a Rangers first shot going in be? I think Theo needs to make some saves to get his thing going. But we've seen that throughout the year. It's my biggest fear about tonight.

Tarik El-Bashir: That would be disastrous for Theodore's confidence and would take the crowd right out of it. You're exactly right, though, Theodore seems to settle down as the game progresses. If he's good early, that's generally a sign that he's going to be spot-on all night.

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D.C.: Is Brashear's injury just his knee, or is there more to it than that?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't think he has a concussion, if that's what you're getting at. But I do know that he's got a sprained ACL in his left knee. He was limping a bit after practice.

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Ashburn, Va.: Just wanted to say that your coverage of the Caps is excellent, thanks for doing a great job. How is Theo's confidence level?

Tarik El-Bashir: Theodore is well aware of the criticism and he's got an everyone-is-against-me, so-I'm-going-to-prove-them-wrong attitude right now.

It will be interesting to see if that approach helps or hurts him.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tarik --

Do you think they can flip the proverbial switch? It's nice to hear they have been focused in practice and they are certainly saying all the right things, but I'm still a bit skeptical after watching them down the stretch. I think we'll know 20 minutes where they are.

Tarik El-Bashir: That's the question everyone is asking right now. I've seen teams coast for a month, then get run out of the first round because they couldn't "flip the switch".

I've also seen teams let up down the stretch, then turn it back on with no problem.

You have every right to be concerned.

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Stone Ridge, Va.: Caps get last change for these first two games, so assuming Torts wants Avery matched up with Ovie, who does he send out instead?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't see Bruce making that switch. Avery's a great pest, but Alex is a pretty good trash talker himself. Have you ever noticed how many "conversations" Ovechkin has with opposing players, especially goaltenders. Maybe Ovechkin can get in Avery's head.

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Rosslyn, Va.: Do you think we will see Semin and Fedorov on the PK unit?

Tarik El-Bashir: Semin for sure. When he's into it, he's really good on the PK. He breaks up passes, steals pucks and gets it out of the zone.

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24090: Can Bruce still bring up anyone from the minors? How late can he do that? How many is he limited to?

Tarik El-Bashir: The Caps get four call-ups between the trade deadline and the end of Hershey's season. So far, the Caps have used one.

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Another Theo question!: but not about his goalie abilities (I think its all being overblown, actually). How has Jose fit in with the team as a whole? I think everyone but him was around for last year, and I imagine that crazy push and emotion playoff series had some sort of effect on the team. Has he fit in with everyone else? For what its worth, I've seen nothing but support for him on the ice after games from the rest of the team.

Tarik El-Bashir: The players who were on last year's team do share a special bond. Jose seems to be well-liked and a part of the group now.

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Hagerstown, Md.: Love your coverage - I'm a junkie on your blog.

With Laich hitting personal highs at season end, does that make it harder to expect Clark will be back in? And if Clark makes it in -- who would be out?

Tarik El-Bashir: Laich's performance probably means Clark won't see any playing time. But a healthy Clark can be a big help, even if he's on the fourth line.

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Rosslyn, Va.: Any word on if we get Mites On Ice tonight?

Tarik El-Bashir: No idea. But some of those kids are good!

On a personal note, I did a shootout as a kid between periods at Capital Centre. I guess I was about 13 or so. Still one of my fondest memories.

If there are no Mites On Ice tonight, it's because of the ice staff is trying to give the ice more time to cure after the Zamboni goes over it.

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Charlottesville, Va: Hi Tarik,

Thanks for the great Caps coverage. Was everyone on the ice this morning? What was the mood like at Kettler?

Tarik El-Bashir: Not everyone. It was an optional skate. The mood was very serious. When Bruce Boudreau spoke to the media, he wasn't smiling or cracking wise at all.

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Bethesda, Md.: One question:

Who you got? How many games?

Tarik El-Bashir: Caps in five.

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Baltimore, Md.: Any word or Drury yet? Will the Caps focus their defensive attention to match up with any one line, or will coach just rotate lines normally with the flow of the game?

Tarik El-Bashir: I just emailed with Pierre LeBrun from ESPN. He was at the Rangers' skate and said that Drury skated but will be a game time decision.

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D.C.: Do you think that last year's series with Philly has prepared this team for a playoff run this year, or does it all really come down to Theodore catching fire?

Tarik El-Bashir: The Caps certainly will be more prepared this time around. But it's impossible to ignore the importance of Theodore.

He doesn't need to win games for the Caps. But he CAN'T lose them.

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Washington, D.C.: Will the Caps take the train up to MSG, or do they take their normal charter?

Tarik El-Bashir: I take the train. Owner Ted Leonsis takes the train. The players? They're too good for the train. So they fly.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Tarik, I caught you on WPL on Monday I think, you were giving Russ a hard time about his playoff beard, but I have to ask: where's yours?

Tarik El-Bashir: Like most men, I hate to shave and like having facial hair. But like most men, the women in my life (wife and daughter) won't stand for it.

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Owings Mills, Md.: Have you seen any unusual player hair?

Tarik El-Bashir: Mike Green had a red and black fauxhawk this morning.

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Arlington, Va.: Are you aware there is a precap going on right now with Mike Vogel and Stretch. I am trying to keep track of both all while not losing my job. Keep up my total Caps overload.

Giddy...

Tarik El-Bashir: Vogs and Stretch are the competition. You're either with me or against me. What's your choice?

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Arlington, Va.: Tarik,

How do you see the Capitals reacting if Avery starts up his antics again?

Tarik El-Bashir: The players I spoke to yesterday said they're going to ignore him and let him take penalties. But that's lot easier said than done. Especially if Avery smacks someone upside the head with a stick.

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Washington, D.C.: With Brash out, who's the Caps go-to "enforcer?" Ovie doesn't usually need an enforcer, but unless Semin breaks out the bongos, his line may need some more beef. Does Bradley fill the role, or do the Caps not need to worry about throwing down the gloves if the play starts getting chippy?

Tarik El-Bashir: Marc Staal turtled when Semin went after him. Don't you remember?

Seriously, I think the "enforcer" role will fall on Bradley and Erskine. But don't forget, there's almost no fighting in the playoffs. So it's probably a non-issue.

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Centreville, Va. : I am hopeful that the Caps will play well but, wonder if they can make it to the finals. Do you they have what it takes to win the cup?

Tarik El-Bashir: Check back next week. I need to see at least three or four games before I can give you an honest answer.

From a talent standpoint, they do have what it takes. but it takes more -- a lot more -- than talent to win the Cup.

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Holly Springs, N.C.: I have not seen anything about Alzner being called up. Will they call him and and will he play? I just can't understand how they would go with Erskine when they have Alzner they could inject into the line up. No offense to Erskine but he is our weakest link and easily Alzner is a huge upgrade. This is the playoffs this is not a time to spare feelings.

Tarik El-Bashir: I do feel that Alzner is probably the Caps fourth or fifth best defenseman. If they struggle on the back end, I would not be surprised to him get a call.

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Dupont Circle: With the focus on the Caps' big guns (Ovi, Semin, Green, etc), who do you see maybe sneaking in with some goals or big plays?

Tarik El-Bashir: Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr and Tomas Fleischmann will need to chip in. Wouldn't be bad to get a goal or two from a defenseman not named Mike Green, either.

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D.C.: What does Steckel bring to the line up that Aucoin doesn't? Aucoin seemed to earn his stripes when he was on the ice. Steckel seems like a non-factor in virtually every game. What gives?

Tarik El-Bashir: Steckel is money on faceoffs. He's ranked fifth in the league in faceoff percentage (58-percent).

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D.C.: Hey Tarik, what are the chances that the caps sign a Kkovalchuk or Nash next year?

Tarik El-Bashir: None. Can't afford them.

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Tarik El-Bashir: Thanks for stopping by, folks. I wish I could stay longer, but I've got to pick up a new crackberry. Mine broke from overuse, if you can believe that.

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Caps Coverage

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