The Washington Capitals: Playoff Series Against Pittsburgh Penguins

The Washington Post's Tarik El-Bashir previews Game 7 from the Verizon Center press box. Video by The Washington Post

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Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 13, 2009; 3:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer and Capitals Insider blogger Tarik El-Bashir was online Monday, May 13, at 3 p.m. ET to discuss the Caps' playoff series with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Submit your questions and comments before or during today's discussion.

Caps Coverage


Tarik El-Bashir: Hello everyone and thanks for joining me this afternoon. I hear there's a game over at Verizon Center tonight. Maybe I'll go over and check it out. In the meantime, though, I've set aside an hour to answer some of your questions. So let's get started.


Capcity: Tarik, Everyone keeps talking about the huge number of shots the Penguins have racked up and because of that the Caps have been outplayed. Now I'm not debating whether or not the Caps have been outplayed, but are shots really the best indicator? If I recall correctly most of the Penguins shots, and goals for that matter, are from close range. Like Cindy, they've hacked away at Varlamov sometimes getting 3 or 4 shots before we either clear the puck or Varly scoops it up.

Tarik El-Bashir: When a team gets out-shot by a wide margin, that's generally a pretty good indication that its opponent dominated the puck possession battle, since it's hard to rack up shots if you're chasing the puck.


Roanoke, Va.: Considering Nylander is not playing nor looks like he is welcome to play again for this team, what do we do with him? Any options?

Tarik El-Bashir: Caps GM George McPhee tried his best to move Nylander (and his big contract) at the deadline. No takers. I'm sure he'll try to trade him again in the offseason. But there's probably not going to be a market then, either, unless McPhee sweetens the pot by including a prospect.

The Caps could buy out Nylander. But the Caps are going to need every penny save under the cap in a couple of years, especially if the cap goes down as expected. So trading Nylander will still be option No. 1.


Boston, Mass.: Was Boudreau's almost humorous reaction to the Game 6 win really just relief that he wouldn't be fired for losing four straight and the series after being up 2-0? Might he have been fired if the Caps lost game 6? Any chance he gets fired if they lose game 7?

Tarik El-Bashir: Boudreau won't be fired if the Caps lose tonight. He also wouldn't have been canned had the Caps lost Game 6.

The Caps are expected to win a Cup in the coming few years of years. It would gravy if it happens this year. But if it doesn't, it's not time to hit the panic button.

The players trust and respect Boudreau, who, let's not forget, won coach of the year last year. He's also tight with management and ownership.

That's not to say that Boudreau is perfect. He's still learning about winning in the NHL playoffs--just like his young players.


Gilbert's Corner, Va.: Is Mike Green hurt?

Tarik El-Bashir: There's definitely a lot of speculation that something is not right with Green from a health point of view.

Every time I ask, he tells me he's fine. But my eyes tell me something different.

I've watched him all year, and he seems to be shying away from contact more than usual. He also seems to be missing the explosiveness in his stride that we saw in the regular season.

But he's not wearing a knee brace a shoulder sling or anything like that. So it's tough to tell for sure.


Gaithersburg, Md.: Have the officials been announced for this game? I fear that the men in black and white stripes may have more of a role in the determining the outcome of this series than the players on the ice.

Tarik El-Bashir: Dan O'Halloran and Bill McCreary are the refs. The linesman are Brad Lazarowish and Jay Sharrers.

I'm not talking about the refs. I can't afford the $10,000 fine. Just kidding. Reporters can't be fined or suspended by Colin Campbell. Thank goodness.


Niagara Falls, Ontario: Why Jay Beagle? Good energy guy, but a) was he considered expendable by Hershey during their playoffs? and b) is he considered the best possible call-up?

Related, any chance Brash gets a sweater tonight? Nyls?

Tarik El-Bashir: Brashear stayed on late this morning, and that generally means he'll be a scratch.

As far as Beagle, the Caps needed a banger and a crasher who is responsible. Beagle fit the bill.


Stone Ridge, Va.: If Gonchar goes tonight what are the chances that his knee gets special attention by the Caps?

Tarik El-Bashir: His knee got special attention in Game 4, didn't it? I don't expect that to change.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: Was Ovechkin's hit on Gonchar a cheap one or a legal one?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't think Ovechkin meant to injury Gonchar. I also don't think he stuck out his leg. It was just an unfortunate outcome for Gonchar.


Baltimore, Md. : Hi Tarik!

Quick question about a rumor I heard. I read yesterday that the Russian media has put into print that Viktor Kozlov is already in talks with SKA St. Petersburg to play in the KHL next year. Have you heard anything about this? Or do you think this is jumping the gun like the Brashear situation a week or two back?

Thanks! Enjoy the game tonight!

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't have direct knowledge of Viktor Kozlov's rumored talks with St. Petersburg. But I did talk to someone today who told me that he would not be surprised if there have been some prelimary discussions.

I still think Kozlov will be able to earn more in the NHL than over in Russia. And remember, when he signed in Washington two years ago he was very frank about his motivation: he said the Caps offered him more money than anyone else.


Baltimore, Md.: Has the league made any indication about when the Eastern Conference Finals will start? Are there any more building conflicts that would result in another back-to-back?

Tarik El-Bashir: No indication from the league yet. But the thought in the pressroom here is that conference finals would begin Sunday. It will come down to building availability as it always does. Boston could complicate things since the Celtics are still playing.


Washington, D.C.: How many earplugs are you bringing tonight?

Tarik El-Bashir: If I used earplugs, I would never live that down. Sometimes the pressbox can be worse than locker room when it comes to teasing.

I'll just go deaf, I suppose.


Baltimore, Md.: How nervous were you during Game 6 OT?

Tarik El-Bashir: I can honestly say that I never get nervous. I do, however, get a little tense in one goal games and in overtime, because my first edition story is due at the buzzer. So I only have about 3 minutes to write the whole top of that first story.


Section 430: Been to any Yanni concerts lately?

Tarik El-Bashir: I wish I had Yanni's hair.


Vienna, Va.: Does Flurry seem vulnerable right now? His save percentage has plummeted this series, and some of his stick work has been extremely suspect.

Tarik El-Bashir: Fleury has not been spectacular. In fact, he hasn't even had a dominant performance in this series. That said, he's very capable of stealing a game. He just hasn't done it yet. Not sure if that's a good thing or bad thing for the Caps.


Game 7: So my wife and mother-in-law want to take us out to dinner tonight and miss most of the game. How do I convince them that they are the crazy ones and not me?

Tarik El-Bashir: Just make sure you get a table near the bar, where there probably will be a TV. Slip the host a fifty if you have to.


Newark, Del.: How many of the "superstar" Post columnists will be at the Phone Booth tonight?

Tarik El-Bashir: The seating chart has Boz and Wise on it.


Columbia, Md.: Who's the odd man out next season, Theo or Johnny, or BOTH? Neuvirth, while not very solid with the big club this year, has been more than capable in the playoffs with the Bears, and Varly is the clear #1 for next season.

Tarik El-Bashir: Great question. It depends on whether Theodore is cool with being a backup or splitting time. If not, the Caps will need to trade him.

If the Caps are comfortable with Varlamov playing 60 or more games, then Brent Johnson would be a good choice as the backup. Not only would be come about $3.5 million cheaper than No. 60, he has the type of easy-going personality that would make him great for Varlamov.


Rockville, Md.: For the long run -- Simeon Varlamov or Michal Neuvirth?

Tarik El-Bashir: The Caps seem to be a position of strength at goaltender --finally. I keep hearing the Braden Holtby kid is the real deal, too.

Obviously, the Caps aren't going to need all three. So perhaps they'll be able to move one for a solid D-man.

If I had to chose between Varlamov and Neuvirth, I would go with Varlamov. Because you can teach positioning. You can't teach athleticism.


Washington, D.C.: In the event of a loss tonight, is this a season a "success" for the Caps?

Tarik El-Bashir: The players and coaches would consider it a disappointment, I'm sure. But in the grand scheme, I think you would have to consider it a moderate success. They made it further than last season. They found a goalie. And they've got one more year of postseason experience under their belts.


Stamford, Conn.: Tarik,

The trouble the Caps have had with the Pens forecheck and their inability to clear the zone at times has been well documented throughout the series. Reading that the Caps have not practiced all that much throughout this series, how is BB preparing his team to deal with this in the most important game of the season?


Tarik El-Bashir: The Caps have struggled all year against teams that have put a lot of pressure on their defense. That's not a secret anymore.

When it comes to specific system type details, the Caps have a theatre-style video room at Kettler, where Boudreau spends a lot of time going over the other team's strategy.

Yes, Boudreau stands in front of the room with a laser pointer.


Aldie, Va.: Phone Booth vs. Mellon -- which ice surface is worse (this series)?

Tarik El-Bashir: I would go with Verizon Center. Although, the ice at Mellon for Game 6 looked smooth and crisp. It was also about 40 degrees in the building on Monday.


Washington, D.C.: Where does tonight's game rank all-time among most exciting sporting events hosted in D.C.? It's got to be near the top, no?

Tarik El-Bashir: It's certainly up there. But let's not forget the Caps were in the Cup finals in 1998.


True Story!: The day after game 4, I was driving home from work, trying to merge onto the highway. The idiot behind me would not let me into the lane. I speed up, he speeds up. I slow down, he slows down. I'm wondering what is going on, when finally just before I'm about to wreck he waves me on and (I think) flips me the bird. Once I'm on the highway I see him start to pass me only he doesn't actually pass me. Instead he drives right along side me until I look over and lo and behold, it's a guy waving a penguins jersey at me from the driver's seat with a giant smirk on his face. (I have a license plate cover so he knew I was a Caps fan). He passes me and there are Penguins and Steelers stuff all over his car. By the way, I live in Williamsburg, Va. WILLIAMBURG! Who would have ever thought the nasty, unruly Pens fans would end up here?

Tarik El-Bashir: That's a great story. But not totally surprising. Remember "fan" is short for "fanatic".


Fairfax, Va.: Is Theo even tradeable at his salary?

Tarik El-Bashir: Yep. I hear Colorado is looking for a No. 1. Perhaps Theo could buy his old house back from Darcy Tucker.

As strange as that might sound, it could happen.


Coaching Staff Question: How tight is Gabby with his assistants? Correct me if I'm wrong, but he inherited them when he replaced Hanlon, right? Is it a bit surprising that they've stayed on so long?

Tarik El-Bashir: I won't say that I expect some turnover with Boudreau's assistants this offseason, but it would not surprise me if there is at least one move. Coaches always want their "own" guys.


Washington, D.C.: I had heard that Green might be getting his stick back from the Hall of Fame to use in tonight's game, any truth to that?

Tarik El-Bashir: That stick actually never made it to HHOF. It's here at Verizon Center, but Green told me this morning that he plans to use the new ones.


Rocking Red, Nation's Capital, D.C., etc.: Are you wearing any red right now? You better be.

Tarik El-Bashir: I only own gray and black clothes. See my chat last week for a better explanation.


Bethesda, Md.: Tarik,

I am not an experienced hockey fan. Does a goaltender's style of play change the defensive scheme? Has the defense been slow to adjust to the Varlamov style?

Tarik El-Bashir: Yes it does. The Caps defensemen have to be more aware of Varlamov, since he comes out of his net so far to challenge pucks.


Fairfax, Va.: A few games back Gabby put Clark, Steckel, and Ovie on the same line. Do you think we will keep seeing the regular lines or that he'll mix things up to keep the Penguins off guard?

Tarik El-Bashir: Whenever Ovechkin ends up on a line like that, it's because Boudreau is trying to get more time for Ovechkin by double shifting him.


Tysons, Va.: I keep thinking about Dave Fay, he would be a very happy man right now, no?

Tarik El-Bashir: Funny. I thought about Dave today, too. Figures the team gets good after he's gone.


Washington, D.C.: Could Caps fans show some class and give this team a standing ovation at the end of the game, WIN OR LOSE? Throwing stuff onto the ice is just pathetic!

Tarik El-Bashir: Couldn't agree more. This ain't Philly.


Richmond, Va.: Hi Tarik, since you are blessed with being able to follow the Caps closely, I would like to know what you think about Boudreau's decision of canceling practice or making practice optional.

Please take into account both the first and second series.

Tarik El-Bashir: At this point in the season, what good does practice do? Everyone is nursing bumps and bruises.

For the life of me, I don't even understand why Boudreau lets his players skate in the morning. Studies have shown that half the engery expended at the morning skate is not recovered by game-time.

So basically, I'm agreeing with Allen Iverson: "Practice? Practice? We talking about practice, man?"


Silver Spring, Md.: How big of an advantage is home ice tonight? It didn't help the Pens on Monday.

Tarik El-Bashir: In NHL history, there have been 125 Game 7s. The home team has won 63 percent of them. I thought that figure would be higher.


D.C.: Prediction for tonight?

Tarik El-Bashir: My prediction: 2-1 Caps.


Baltimore, Md.: Can you rate 'em: Ovi vs. Sid the kid vs. Geno?

Tarik El-Bashir: All three have had dominant performances in this series. If had to rank them 1-2-3 as offensive threats, I would put Ovechkin first, Crosby second and Malkin third. Though I have found new respect for Crosby's game after watching in six straight games. I need to see more from Malkin.


Reston, Va.: How much of the 4th line do we expect to see tonight? Seems like the Caps have gone away from it since Fehr has been out.

Tarik El-Bashir: I bet only Boyd Gordon will see more than a few minutes.


Tarik El-Bashir: Folks, I'm sorry I couldn't get to all of your questions today. I've got a lot going on today. Enjoy the game.


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