The Washington Capitals: Playoffs 2009

Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 20, 2009; 2:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer and Capitals Insider blogger Tarik El-Bashir was online Monday, April 20, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers playoff series.


Tarik El-Bashir: Good afternoon everyone and thanks for joining me. The Rangers need two more wins to clinch the series, but I'm sure we can all agree that tonight's game is as big as they come for the Caps.

I'm sure you've got tons of questions. Hopefully I've got tons of answers. Let's get started.


Columbia, Md.: The Rangers seem to have really thrown Mike Green off of his game. He seems to be making a lot of mental errors and doesn't look to be the same game changer that he was during the regular season. Is he just playing poorly? Are the Rangers too good defensively for Green to play the way he normally does? Or could Avery be having some effect on him?

Tarik El-Bashir: The Rangers have done a great job neutralizing Mike Green. They've taken away his space, they've blocked his point shots and they've been hitting him early and often. The knock on Green has been that he can be taken off his game by getting physical with him. Sean Avery has made it a point to get physical with him.


Washington, D.C.: I spent close to $300 for tix to Saturday's game and something was felt like the Caps just didn't have any kind of urgency, intensity, especially compared with the Round 1 series last year vs. Philly. Would you agree?

Tarik El-Bashir: I would agree, and apparently, so would Coach Bruce Boudreau. When he was asked a question along the those lines this morning, he said the Caps played hard enough in Game 2 to win a regular season game but not hard enough to win a playoff game.

Winning playoff games is about sacrifice. Blocking shots, going into high traffic areas, going for a loose puck even when you know there's a good chance you're going to get hit (and hit hard). The Rangers have done that. The Caps haven't.


Reading, Pa.: Tarik,

Do you think the Caps are trying to be too fancy as well as taking the Rangers a little lightly?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't know if they're being "too" fancy or if they're just being themselves (which is fancy by playoff standards.) I'm starting to think that the Caps, as currently constituted, are what they are. Which is to say they are a collection of very talented players that lack enough grit to win in the playoffs.

A healthy Chris Clark would help. But he's not healthy.

It's something that needs to be addressed in the offseason.


Washington, D.C.: If the Caps do indeed lose this series, what kinds of changes do you see being made in the offseason? Not getting further in the playoffs than last year is unacceptable. Should George McPhee be nervous about his job?

Tarik El-Bashir: GM George McPhee saved the Caps last year by promoting Boudreau and making the moves he did at the deadline. He is safe.

But I think the losses in Games 1 and 2 certainly underscored what this team is lacking. If there was some doubt before that the Caps need another tough veteran defenseman, a gritty top six forward and perhaps some additional veteran leadership, there is no doubt now.

These needs were known at the deadline, but McPhee did nothing. I do not expect him to stand pat this summer.


Chantilly, Va.: Simple question: Theo or Varly?

Tarik El-Bashir: That's a tough one. Boudreau wouldn't say, and both goalies came off the ice this morning around the same time.

I would have asked, but Caps' goalies don't speak on game days. It should, however, be noted that Rangers' goalie Henrik Lundqvist spoke for 20 minutes this morning.


Hockeytown, D.C.: Also, I know we're talking Caps, but what's the deal with the Sharks?! I know the Ducks are good, but this is becoming a pattern with the Sharks postseason.

At least they make me feel better about the Caps.

Tarik El-Bashir: I thought going into the playoffs that Ducks were better (and tougher) than your typical No. 8 seed, and that maybe the Sharks were a bit overrated.

I was less accurate in my prediction for this series, however.


Chevy Chase, Md.: What do you make of Ovie's little stunt this morning?

Tarik El-Bashir: Ovechkin is a very smart guy. He plays 100 mph and his brain is always racing at the same speed.

I think Ovechkin was looking for any sort of edge he could get. And to a certain extent it worked. John Tortorella and his players said they didn't notice him sitting there. But I was sitting just a few feet away. They noticed him, alright.


Alexandria, Va.: If Gabby goes with Varly and he wins a round or two, where does that put B. Johnson next year? Or Jose Theodore?

Tarik El-Bashir: I think the shift is already underway. By putting Varlamov in net for Game 2, Boudreau essentially promoted him from prospect to prospective No. 1 next season.

I think Brent Johnson's time in Washington could be limited. His contract is up and he had a good season before he got hurt. He could get a decent payday elsewhere and perhaps battle for a starter's job.

The big question is what to do with Theodore. He's got another year at $4.5. That's starter money and he's got a starter's mentality. I'm not sure how he would take going into next season knowing he had to win the No. 1 job from Varlamov.


Reston, Va.: How do you assess the play of the Caps defensemen in the first two games? Any thought again of having Feds on the blue line?

Tarik El-Bashir: I thought the Caps' defensemen were way to passive and gave the Rangers' speedy forwards way too much space. They did a much better job closing their gaps in Game 2. Some of that had to do with personnel: Brian Pothier had a good game and Jeff Schultz, who struggled in Game 1, was out.

I don't think Fedorov would be an upgrade at this point.


Arnold, Md.: Any chance Brashear will be in the lineup tonight? Everyone keeps saying we need grit yet he is on the bench...Seems to me he might help a lot at this point

Tarik El-Bashir: I do think there's a chance he will play tonight. He skated and did not stay out for extra work.

I'm not sure how much he will help. But at this point Boudreau has got to do something to get that fourth line going.


Washington, D.C.: "If there was some doubt before that the Caps need another tough veteran defenseman, a gritty top six forward and perhaps some additional veteran leadership, there is no doubt now."

Fair enough. So who should go to make room for these players?

Tarik El-Bashir: Whenever you're looking for players who could be on their way out, you have to look at the unrestricted free agents first. Those would be Brent Johnson, Sergei Fedorov, Viktor Kozlov.


Rocking the Red in Va.: Feds looks old out there. Do you think he's still injured, or do you think that maybe his long and luminous career has caught up to him?

Tarik El-Bashir: Sergei Fedorov hasn't been the same, in my opinion, since he took a shot off the inside of his foot on April 3 against Buffalo. That was the game where he had the turnover in OT that led the Sabres' winner.

He's been limping ever since and has looked a step slow.


Frustrated in 400's: Everyone has talked about how it's Hank stealing the games from us and how well NYR D is playing. Is it really that simple or is there something else we are overlooking?

Tarik El-Bashir: Lundqvist has been good. But the Caps haven't made his job too difficult. I can think of only five (or so) quality saves Hank had to make in Game 2. The Caps took 35 shots. Quantity does not equal quality, especially when you're facing a three-time Vezina Torphy finalist.


Vladivostok: Is there some kind of rule that reporters have to use the name of foreign players as the team spells it, rather than what would be closer to how the players themselves pronounce their names, i.e., Semin instead of Syomin and Simeon instead of Semyon?

Tarik El-Bashir: There is no rule re: the spelling of a player's name. The team makes that decision, lists it on the official roster and the reporters go by that.


Cologne, Germany: Do you think that Ovechkin shoots to much? I think he takes shots from positions where the chance to score is very low. He should pass the puck a little bit more.

Tarik El-Bashir: Yes. He does shoot too much. Perfect example came early in Game 2. He carried the puck into the zone, slammed on the brakes and fired from about 40 feet. Lundqvist made a very easy save. There were no Caps within 50 feet of the Rangers' net.

That type of shot is completely unnecessary.


Chara or Green: Who would you rather have for a playoff series? Who did/would you vote for the Norris?

Tarik El-Bashir: It's easy to say this now, but the Caps would have matched up better with the Canadiens. I don't vote for the Norris (per Post policy) but I would have had a tough choice between Green and Chara.


Washington, D. C.: No consideration for Aucoin in this series?

Tarik El-Bashir: I think Aucoin could help. He had five points in seven games while getting limited ice time. And the Caps haven't gotten much, if anything, from the third and fourth lines.


Names: Remember, WTOP always mispronounces Jose Theodore's name. Apparently, the hard "J" and "T" sounds are too hard for them

Tarik El-Bashir: Jose Theodore might have the most mispronounced (easy) name in the NHL.


Baltimore, Md.: Here is another simple one-Will Schultz be out tonight? Hopefully yes

Tarik El-Bashir: I do not expect him to play. He did not skate.


Silver Spring, Md.: What's the mood in the Rangers Locker room? Just curious to know how they are viewing tonight's game.

Tarik El-Bashir: The big concern for Rangers Coach John Tortorella and his players is to not try to do too much, especially early. As Chris Drury told reporters, he and his teammates need to play within themselves, not get too caught up in the moment, and make sure they have enough energy in the third to finish strong.


Clinkerville, Australia: G'day Tarik?

Has would you rate the play of John Erskine? I feel he has been underutilised and under appreciated since he came here but he has been the Caps best defenseman in these playoffs, playing with a lot of grit and guts.

Tarik El-Bashir: John Erskine has gotten better each month this season and has been really good the past few weeks. I know his two-year, $2.5 million contract extension raised eyebrows back when he signed it October. Now it's looking like a well-deserved raise, to me anyway.


Leesburg, Va.: Bottom Line: Is there still hope (for the series) if the good guys win tonight? Or, should we pretty much pack it up and start looking forward to next year?

Tarik El-Bashir: A win tonight would plant a seed of doubt in the Rangers' minds. And then anything would be possible. Remember, the Caps came back from down 3-1 last season. These are the same players (except in goal).


Arlington, Va.: How did practice today go? And what are the lines for today's game?

Tarik El-Bashir: Seemed to me the Caps were pretty loose considering how dire their situation is at the moment. I didn't sense any tightness or nerves.

As far as lines, the Caps didn't do any rushes and Bruce Boudreau wouldn't talk about the lineup.


D.C.: From a 3rd generation Michigander living and working in DC....


Tarik El-Bashir: That's just wrong.


Suffrage for Tarik: I'm starting a new movement to allow you to have votes for NHL awards. Is this why Kilgore left the Post for the Globe?

Tarik El-Bashir: There's a really simple reason I'm not allowed to vote: there could be the appearance of a conflict of interest since there are bonuses tied to some of the awards.


Tarik El-Bashir: Sorry folks. That's all the time I have this afternoon. I still have to check into (and find) my hotel in Times Square. Pierre LeBrun from ESPN tells me it's a nice hotel, just in a seedy locale behind the bus terminal.

Wish me luck.


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