The Washington Capitals: Playoff Series Against Pittsburgh Penguins

The Washington Post's Tarik El-Bashir discusses the defensive reinforcements that coach Bruce Boudreau has called-up from Hershey prior to Game 2. Video by
Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 4, 2009; 3:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer and Capitals Insider blogger Tarik El-Bashir was online Monday, May 4, at 3 p.m. ET to discuss the playoff series with the Pittsburgh Penguins.


Tarik El-Bashir: Good afternoon all and welcome to today's hockey chat. It's been a busy morning for a game day with the recall of defensemen Karl Alzner and Tyler Sloan. At least one of them figures to make his NHL playoff debut tonight against Pittsburgh. I'm sure you've got tons of questions about the moves, so let's get started.


Huntington, W.Va.: Why was Alzner recalled? Will he see some playing time? Thanks.

Tarik El-Bashir: Alzner and Sloan were recalled for a couple of reasons: first, Erskine took a shot off the leg in Game 1 and is still limping. He's questionable for tonight. Second, ever since Jeff Schultz went down with a back injury in Game 1 of the first round, the Caps have had only six healthy 'D'. And with Schultz out for a while still, Boudreau wanted at least one spare around to give him options.


Washington, D.C.: Tarik,

Do you know if Varlamov will be using the new equipment tonight?


Tarik El-Bashir: That's a great question. But the Caps don't allow their goalies to talk on game days. So I guess we'll find out tonight.

Even if he does put on the new pads, blocker and glove, you might not notice. They are EXACTLY like his old ones -- just fewer puck marks and not all busted up.


Section 430, PB: I'm glad the Caps pulled it off on Saturday but let's face it, they were more lucky than good. If they keep playing like that, it won't take the Flightless Waterfowl seven games to dispatch them. Varly is very good, on the way to great, but he can't do it alone. The Caps have to score first and them keep scoring. And stop shooting from the blue line! When they get close to the net, they score. I heart the Caps but they have to wake up. Now.

Tarik El-Bashir: Those are some excellent observations. They were more lucky than good. They were out-played for long stretches, particularly in the opening minutes, and gave up a half dozen odd-man breaks.

The Caps' D looked great against the Rangers. But as they found out in Game 1, the Pens ain't the Rangers.

Without Varlamov's heroics in the second and third, the Caps might be looking at a one game deficit.


Arlington, Va.: Tarik: You have been to all the arenas including MSG for play-off games. Have you heard anything as loud as the last five minutes of Game 7? How do we rank for noise?

Tarik El-Bashir: Here's my top five ranking in terms of pure decibel level:

1. San Jose

2. Washington

3. Montreal

4. Philly

5. New York

I will say that the last five minutes of Game 7 vs. the Rangers made my ears hurt. Seriously made them hurt.


G-burg, Md.: Did you actually see 'The Save'? Some people said they had already turned away, assuming the worst.

Also, as a former goalie what was your take on that play?

Tarik El-Bashir: I had to watch the replay in slow motion to really appreciate what Varlamov pulled off there. My take on the play is this: Varlamov never gives up on the puck. He was beaten. He knew he was beaten. But he still reached back in the hope he might be able to do something, anything.

That reminds me a lot of Tim Thomas. Another guy who just seems to take it personally when he gives up a goal.

The Save also showed how much hand-eye Varlamov has. It's not like he got a lot of his stick on the puck. He only managed to get the heel of his stick on it.

Unreal save.


Gaithersburg, Md.: Will we see Brashear again in the playoffs? If not will we see him again as a Capital?

Tarik El-Bashir: That's a tough question. If the Caps' season goes long enough (and it's looking like it will) Brashear will be eligible. But he will have missed six games -- just long enough to get out of game shape.

I've heard from a few people (before the suspension) that the Caps would like to have Brash back at the right price (read: less than his current $1.2 mil). But in each of the past two seasons, he had been re-signed by now. So that tells me GM George McPhee is really in no hurry.


Bmore rocks the RED: Tarik,

Been reading you for awhile now. With the Caps becoming the buzz sports team in the DC/Baltimore area, have you yourself become somewhat of a celebrity? Can I have your autograph?

Tarik El-Bashir: You mean like Mike Wilbon?


Fairfax, Va.: Chris Clark played 5:23 in Game 1 with two minor penalties and was a -1. While I understand he's the captain and good for the room, any chance they dress Nylander or a seventh defenseman?

Tarik El-Bashir: Chris did have a tough night on Game 1 after what I thought was a solid Game 7 vs. the Rangers. Look, Clark has missed almost all of the past two seasons. It's going to take him a while to get back up to speed. He's played two games and jumped back in at the toughest possible moment for someone in his position.

He's finally 100-percent health wise. I'm going to wait until he's played at least a few more games before passing judgment. I suggest you do the same.


Crybaby: Is it true that Crosby called 'The Save" a "lucky save made out of desperation"? Also heard that he said he knew it was a save but only threw up his hand in order to get a review. Is anyone in the hockey media catching up to how classless and whiney he can be?

Tarik El-Bashir: I did hear Crosby say he was only putting up his arm to ask for a review. He was clearly in the early stages of celebrating what he thought was a goal.

Classless might be the wrong word, though. He just doesn't want to give a 21-year-old rookie the satisfaction of knowing he was in awe of the save. I'm fine with that.


Baltimore, Md.: I've noticed that a lot of Caps fans seem to have a very, very pessimistic, almost martyred, outlook, probably stemming from so many almosts and disappointments over the years. What do you think it will take to get rid of that inferiority complex?

Tarik El-Bashir: Well, the Caps (and their fans) are three wins away from getting rid of several complexes.


The Future: Hey Tarik, This is kind of off the subject; how many 2010 Olympians do you think are currently on the Cap's roster?

Tarik El-Bashir: Ovechkin, Semin and Backstrom are locks and Green's got a decent shot. There are probably a couple of others -- Jurcina and Fleischmann come to mind -- that will get looks.


Eden Prairie, Minn.: Eric Fehr seems to embody the essence of a successful playoff forward (e.g., creating havoc around the net) yet only sees limited ice time -- what gives?

Tarik El-Bashir: In eight games, Fehr has no points and is a minus-3. Maybe he's struggling because of the limited ice time. Then again, it's hard to get more ice time when you're not producing.


Section 416 aka the Alps: Any reaction from the team about the front page story on Brashear? To say he had a troubled childhood is an understatement... For Capitals' Brashear, Fighting's a Way of Life (The Washington Post, May 2, 2009)

Tarik El-Bashir: What a moving story by Mike Wise. Brashear already had the respect of his teammates, but I bet he's got an even greater amount now that everyone knows what he had to endure.


Re: Nylander: How has Nylander become the scapegoat this year? I thought he had a very good Game 2 vs. Rangers -- hustled a lot, drew a key penalty in the third period. And Boudreau went out of his way to say he was playing well. But he's sat out ever since. Is it just productivity? I hear his "style" doesn't fit. What does that mean?

Tarik El-Bashir: When people say that Nylander's style doesn't fit the Caps, what they're saying is that Nylander likes to slow down the transition game and the attack with circles and stops. That doesn't mesh with Boudreau's north-south system.

This might help you understand better: Toward the end of the regular season, Nylander was leading a three on two break. The Caps had the other team on its heels. But he chose to make an unnecessary cut in the neutral zone, throwing the whole play offside. One winger just stopped and stared at Nylander in disbelief.


Leesburg, Va.: Is it me, or are people more excited about the Caps now than they were in 98 during the Cup run?

Tarik El-Bashir: It's not you.


Calgary, Alberta: Mike Green's been pretty quiet so far in the playoffs -- is he hurting or sick?

Tarik El-Bashir: He was sick in the first round. But he's also been focusing a lot more on his play in the defensive end. He's been leading the rush a lot less, and therefore, is getting caught out up ice a lot less.


Ahhlington: T-

Caps win tonight 6-1, thoughts?

Tarik El-Bashir: Don't see it. The Penguins are too good and too experienced to get blown out like that. I'm expecting another close one.


Washington, D.C.: Role Play.

You're George McPhee. You have a young budding superstar in Simeon Varlamov. If the Caps advance to the conference finals/Stanley Cup finals, do you attempt to lock him down with a contract extension this year? Or wait until later next season?

Tarik El-Bashir: Varlamov is already signed for the next two seasons.


Silver Spring, Md.: I've been a Caps fan since the beginning when the stars were Yvon Labre and Ron Low. It seemed that D.C. was becoming a hockey town in '98 with the Stanley Cup run in the sense that interest was much broader than just the limited fan base. I think seeing all of those Red Wing jerseys at MCI in Game 4 of that finals disabused me of that notion. Do you think this time it's for real? Have we become a hockey town?

Tarik El-Bashir: This town is all about the hot team, the team of the moment. The Skins will always be No. 1 around here, even when they're struggling. Everyone else is fighting for second.

Remember how the city got behind the Wiz a few years ago when they were hot? That faded fast, didn't it?

Now the Caps are the hot ticket. They had better cash in.


Reston, Va.: Matt Bradley. Capitals playoffs MVP? Agree?

Tarik El-Bashir: Bradley has been playing well. But the playoff MVP -- to this point -- is without a doubt Varlamov. He's been the Caps' best player most nights.


Fairfax, Va.: With Nylander being a healthy scratch for the majority of the playoff games, do you expect the Caps to buy out the remainder of his contract in the off season?

Tarik El-Bashir: I'm sure they will consider buying out his deal.

Management is in a tough spot with Nylander. The team owes him $8.5 mil over the next two seasons. He probably can't be traded, he's been reduced to an extra forward and I'm not sure the damage that has been done the past two weeks can be undone.

That said, with Sergei Fedorov's status unclear, the Caps may want to keep Nylander one more year and hope he's better. Then buy out the last year of his deal (which is why the contract was constructed that way in the beginning).


Alexandria, Va.: Who would you rather have on your team -- Gonchar '98 or Gonchar '09?

Tarik El-Bashir: Gonchar, Version '98. No doubt.


GWU, D.C.: Sat next to three Red Wing fans at Saturday's C-A-P-S game. They couldn't get home for a game so decided to catch some action here. The word in Detroit is that some big name Red Wing players have been talking to Ovie about letting his contract run out here, and moving to Detroit to become the face of the franchise as their current stars retire. Not an unheard of move in the NHL, after all we got Jagr from Pittsburgh for nothing in return. Thoughts?

Tarik El-Bashir: Ovechkin will be 35 when his 13-year contract runs out in Washington. Good luck with that.


Charlottesville, Va.: Hey Tarik,

My six year-old insists that he has to watch the Caps games with his Ovechkin jersey on and the hockey cards of all the Caps players spread around him for the team to win. So far they have won every time he's put it together. What are some of the other superstitious mojos you've heard about?

Tarik El-Bashir: Boudreau has the same thing for lunch when the team is doing well. He also does his interview sessions in the same spot, every day, without fail. Until the Caps lose, that is. Then he asks something like, "Where did I stand last time? I want to move."


Bowie, Md.: Supposing we make it to the next round, who do we have a better chance against? Boston or Carolina?

Tarik El-Bashir: I was thinking about that this morning. I would rather see a Caps-Carolina series because of the rivalry. But I think the Caps would do better against Boston.


Tarik El-Bashir: Folks, I would love to stay and chat, but I've got a radio interview starting in about 30 seconds. Thanks for stopping by today. Talk to you again next time.


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