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Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins recap

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Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post staff writer
Monday, February 8, 2010; 1:00 PM

The Washington Capitals beat the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday, extending their win streak to 14, three wins shy of the NHL league record for most wins in a row set by the Penguins in 1993.

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Washington Post staff writer and Capitals Insider blogger Tarik El-Bashir took your questions about the Caps, yesterday's game against the Penguins and the current win streak.

Full Coverage: Washington Capitals

Tarik's Blog: Capitals Insider

Follow Tarik on Twitter at @TarikElBashir

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Tarik El-Bashir: Hello everyone, and thanks for joining me for today's Caps/NHL chat. I see a ton of great questions, so let's get going.

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Falls Church, Va: I tend to be a bit of a pessimist, but with the team on the road, a back-to-back and the Olympics looming, I'm worried about a let-down game. Is the mood in the room such that I should have heart that they will stay on track?

Tarik El-Bashir: You make a great point there. I do not sense that the Olympic-bound players are becoming distracted. But that certainly is a possibility.

The Alexes, Nicklas Backstrom and Tomas Fleischmann are all about the Caps first. But the Olympics mean a lot them, too. I imagine it's going to be challenging for them NOT to look ahead to Vancouver in the coming week.

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Reston, Va.: Wow, Tarik. I needed a valium to get through that game yesterday. Pretty amazing play from all the boys. Question, when the chosen few are off at the Olympics, what will the rest of the guys be doing? Will they be practicing?

Tarik El-Bashir: Many of the players who are not participating in Vancouver will go find an island and a palm tree, or return to their hometown for a bit.

I'm told they actually cannot use the facilities at KCI until official practices begin, which is a few days before the season resumes.

So, yes, there will be practices. But not until the days before Buffalo game on March 3.

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South Riding, Va: With this current streak and the caps play, would you agree that the caps will stick with the current roster and not trade for a veteran defensemen?

Tarik El-Bashir: That's the question that will consume GM George McPhee for the next few weeks. He's got a team that has won 14 straight and can't be stopped from scoring. Chemistry is in the room is good.

Yet, there are some concerns.

Brendan Morrison has cooled considerably after a hot start. He had an assist yesterday, but that was his first point in seven games. He was also a minus 2 and hasn't be great on faceoffs lately, either.

There is some thought that the Caps will need a veteran center.

The defense hasn't been great, but it's been good enough. That said, I could see them target a two-way Dman with an expiring contract.

Cap space isn't an issue, but upsetting the chemistry is.

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Arlington, VA: Did the first period show that we need a top-4 defenseman before the deadline? The guys seemed to have issues controlling Pittsburgh's speed - or was it just a mental lapse to start the game?

Tarik El-Bashir: The defense did have trouble with the Penguins' speed. I also think you saw two bad giveaways (Tyler Sloan's to Sidney Crosby and Tom Poti's to Evgeny Malkin) cost them big time. You rarely see two huge mistakes like that in the same game.

The D, on a whole, looked better in the second half of the game. But that could have been because the Pens tired after a long day of travel.

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Mass Ave: Awesome Awesome Awesome couple of snow games! This weekend, it sure paid to live close enough to Verizon Center to walk! I got tix from people who couldn't make it due to snow, and otherwise, no way to watch that amazing, playoff-like atmosphere on Sunday. I hope everyone was safe getting to/from the games!

Tarik El-Bashir: You lucked out, man.

I ended up staying at a downtown hotel because I was concerned about not getting home Friday night and then not being able to get back in time for Sunday.

Got to say, it was weird being in road trip mode in your home city.

I was surprised by how many showed up yesterday. I'm guessing 14,000 or more.

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Richmond, VA: Tarik, any explanation from the NHL on the ridiculous slashing call on Schultz towards the end of the game? Look, I know that refs sometimes miss calls and make bad ones, but that was simply INEXCUSABLE. Thankfully, it didn't affect the game's outcome, but it certainly didn't do anything to help squash conspiracy theories!

Tarik El-Bashir: That was one of the worst calls I've ever seen. Matt Cooke also did a good job of selling it.

What was most concerning to me was that the call was made by the ref who was furthest from the play.

I can guarantee that the ref was "written up" and probably got a call from the officiating supervisor. League officials in Toronto scrutinize and log every call, and they take an especially close look at the ones late in the game.

Good thing for him, it didn't affect the outcome. Had it, he might have been apologizing today.

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McLean, VA.: Do we as Caps fans make too much of a supposed anti-Caps (read anti-European player) bias when it comes to both the refs and the hockey media? Watching the game yesterday, I told my girlfriend that it was a guarantee that the Caps would get a penalty in the last 4 minutes b/c the Bettman Penguins needed to win. Are we crazy, or do we get slighted more often than we deserve?

Tarik El-Bashir: I do think Caps fans can be a little too sensitive about perceived bias in the media. Sometimes.

Dan Steinberg has a great post about it over at the DC Sports Bog. He basically provides and transcript of yesterday's NBC broadcast. He makes a great case that Caps fans are NOT crazy.

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Montauk, NY: Why did Sloan get the nod over Erskine? Is Gabby rotating D-men now?

Tarik El-Bashir: That is what it looks like to me. The Penguins are a fast, explosive team. Tyler Sloan is one of the best skaters on the Caps, while John Erskine (to put it nicely) is not.

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washingtonpost.com: NBC's Caps-Penguins coverage (DC Sports Bog)

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Burke, VA: Hey Tarik,

Great coverage of the Caps! Can you please comment on what I think are two prominent areas of weaknesses on this team. One is the obvious need for a crease-clearing defenseman since no one on this team except Erskine makes any forward pay a price.

The other is a general lack of toughness. This year more than any other year we've seen Ovechkin, Semin, and Green receive more cheapshots than ever before and has resulted in some of them missing time. The Caps for all their talent and some grit really don't measure up toughness-wise to the rest of the league. While it was nice to Knuble stick up for Ovy and Morrisonn defend Green on the Colton Orr hit a few weeks ago, don't you think this team needs to add one or two bodies somewhere that inspire a little bit of fear in the opposition ? I don't mean a Brashear type who was way past his prime. But you just saw the Rangers add a Brandon Prust to their lineup who can skate a regular shift. Comments?

Troy

Tarik El-Bashir: I would like to see the Caps add a rugged, veteran defenseman. GM George McPhee is quietly looking around for one, I'm told. But you have to remember that every playoff bound team will be looking for the same thing -- and the tendency at the deadline is too pay too much.

McPhee has the cap space. But he must carefully weigh the cost (in prospects and picks) of a rental against the impact the player might have to a team that -- oh, by the way -- is atop the league standings.

As far as toughness, I do not see the benefit of adding a low-minute, low-skill level enforcer to the Caps' lineup. He would probably be scratched in the playoffs anyway.

BTW, have you noticed how much Donald Brashear is playing in New York? Not much these days.

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Alexandria, VA: Watching this offensive explosion has been wonderful. And like the players say, it seems the Caps are never out of it.

That being said everyone knows that in the spring, goals become hard to come by as it is a different game in the playoffs. Do you feel that this team is set up for that?

Tarik El-Bashir: I do not envision scoring suddenly becoming a problem for this team in the playoffs.

Goaltending, as it is every spring, will determine how far the Caps get. Jose Theodore and Michal Neuvirth have both been outstanding during this run. The question is whether they can keep it up, and whether Semyon Varlamov can regain his form and remain healthy. That could give the Caps THREE viable options in goal.

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Fairfax, VA: Like the playoffs last year it seems the Caps have problems with the Pens heavy forecheck. What do they need to do to get the puck out of their zone?

Tarik El-Bashir: Better/more consistent support from their forwards would be nice. It would also help if Jose Theodore was better at handling the puck, and if Michal Neuvirth was more comfortable helping out.

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Arlington, Va.: What is Jeff Schultz's status in terms of his contract? I can't figure out how the Caps can hope to hold on to these players.

Tarik El-Bashir: Jeff Schultz will be an RFA, and at $715,000, he's quite a bargain. Now. He's definitely put himself in line for a significant raise, as has Nicklas Backstrom, Tomas Fleischmann and Eric Fehr.

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Reality: Caps fans have to relax a little bit. It's great to have this winning streak, and it's always nice to beat the Pens, but as many President's Trophy winning teams can attest, that means nothing once the playoffs start. Until we win 4 seven game playoff series, this is all meaningless.

What do you think, Tarik?

Tarik El-Bashir: I think you're very wise. Winning the Presidents' Trophy is a nice accomplishment; winning the Stanley Cup is an unforgettable one.

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Springfield, Va.: Did you see the shot of Crosby leaving the ice through the bench when he looked back out on the ice at the Caps celebrating? It was terrific! He was defeated and he knew it.

washingtonpost.com: Couldn't find that particular shot, but lots of good ones in this gallery.

Tarik El-Bashir: I did not see that (the pressbox is all the way on the other side of the arena). But the Pens, on a whole, were really down/annoyed after losing on a power play goal in OT.

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Durango, Colorado: Tarik:

Your insider reports really help out-of-town Caps fans keep informed about the team. I've been a Caps fan since their first season in 1974-5 (I still recall seeing a game against the Kansas City Scouts) and have been living out of state for 12 years. I follow the Caps through the DirecTV Center Ice package. It is pretty clear now that the Caps will be in the playoffs. Those of us who can only follow games on DirecTV now do not have the Versus network due to the dispute with DirecTV. The playoffs will be shown primarily on Versus. Do you have any information about the status of negotiations to get Versus back on DirecTV? I'd hate to miss the Caps playoff run! Thanks.

Tarik El-Bashir: I have DirecTv, too. So I feel your pain. It stinks. And I can't believe it hasn't been resolved by now.

Someone in New York who knows what's going on told me the other day that the next "pressure point" in the stalled negotiations will be the start of the playoffs. Maybe that will get the ball rolling again.

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Columbia, MD via Edmonton, AB: I realize that Jose Theodore has been playing well during the streak, and Nuevirth has shown signs of a future, but with Varly young and hurt, is there any thought to getting a proven netminder for the playoffs? I know there are at least two top-flight goalies with nothing to play for here in Alberta.

Tarik El-Bashir: Given the way Theodore and Neuvirth have played, and that Semyon Varlamov is on the verge of returning (I hear he could rejoin the Caps any moment now) I don't see the need for a goalie. A veteran center and D-man, yes. A goalie, no.

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Arlington, VA: Sheldon Souray has listed the Caps as one of the 6 teams that he would accept a trade to. Do you think that he would fit in or would he present some chemistry problems?

Tarik El-Bashir: The problem with Souray (besides a broken wrist) is the remaining years on his deal. I believe there are two of them at a $4.5 million per cap hit.

He's got a cannon for a shot and would certainly help the blue line create more offense. But do the Caps really need more offense?

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Montauk, NY: You mentioned the goalie situation. What is the word on the street with Varly and returning to the team? Might we see 2 or 3 goalies that are standing on their heads come playoff time? Varly showed last year he is not intimidated by the NHL Playoffs, Theo historically gets better down the stretch and has been to the finals, and Nuevy has won it all in the AHL.

Tarik El-Bashir: I heard today that Varlamov *could* be at practice tomorrow. Nothing has been decided yet, though.

The problem is this: if you bring up a rusty Varlamov for the trip, what do you do with Neuvirth? And even if you keep all three on the roster, what message does that send to Theodore and Neuvirth?

Having three NHL goalies is a good problem for a GM. It's a nightmare for a coach.

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Capstown: Am I the only one who wishes the team wasn't doing QUITE so well right now? Don't get me wrong, I'll take the 14-game win streak, which has been amazing. But I'm afraid that it's going to trick people into believing that this roster is just about perfect, when in fact it is not. This team has to be better defensively to even make it to Lord Stanley's finals, let alone to hoist that cup.

The bandwagon story on Saturday was well timed, though. I have friends who've never once talked puck with me who all of a sudden are declaring themselves Caps fans. I'm not sure what to make of it. Other than to think that it's pretty funny.

washingtonpost.com: The Washington Capitals are the hottest ticket in town for fans (Post, Feb. 6)

Tarik El-Bashir: I know what you mean. My mom asks me about the Caps all the time now. The last time we talked hockey on a consistent basis was in the car on the way to Ft. Dupont, Cabin John, etc.

When I was bantam!

I say don't hate on the bandwagon fans. Embrace them.

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Ashland, VA: Do you think that Craig Adams will be suspended for hitting Ovie into the boards? Both Ovie and Green were suspended for dangerous hits, and I can't picture a more dangerous hit than sending someone to the boards head first.

Tarik El-Bashir: I do not. Adams shoved Ovechkin when he was in a vulnerable position. But I do not believe there was any intention to hurt him.

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Baltimore, MD: Tarik, how do you think the Flash-at-center experiment is going now? It seems that teams have adjusted and that he is not making that many plays. Plus, he loses a lot of faceoffs. On the other hand, Semin is just cranking along and Laich seems to be more comfortable on the wing. Is Boudreau content? Is Morrison OK with playing on the third line?

Thanks.

Tarik El-Bashir: Fleischmann as a center is working out okay. But it is not a long term solution. He's responsible in his own zone but is inconsistent on faceoffs and hasn't exactly been filling up the scoresheet (especially with respect to goals, of which he has none in nine games).

Which is another reason why the Caps may find themselves shopping for a center. Just in case.

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Baltimore, Md: Uh, Seriously?? "Despite a flat first period, the BEARS rallied from a three-goal deficit to defeat the visiting Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 5-4 Sunday night. Mathieu Perreault led the HERSHEY offense, notching a hat trick and an assist on the game-winning goal to stretch the team's winning streak to 17 consecutive home games and 10 games overall."

Sounds familiar, eh?

Tarik El-Bashir: The only team in hockey hotter than the Caps is their minor league afilliate. I'm hoping to make it up to Hershey during the NHL break to take in a game or two.

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CT: I had heard that the next pressure point for the Direct TV issue is the UFC event that will be running on Versus. Versus feels that the demand for this event will be so heavy that it will force Direct TV's hand a bit. We shall see. No question, just an FYI. Keep up the great work!

Tarik El-Bashir: That's some encouraging news for DirecTv customers.

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Washington, DC: It looked like Ovechkin was hurting in the third period? Any color on the injury?

Tarik El-Bashir: He took a crosscheck to his kidney area in the neurtal zone. He looked to be fine after the game.

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Aplachin, N.Y.: Tarik,

Any worries from the Capitals about how much ice time Ovechkin will get during the Olympics. I have heard that it would not be surprising for the Russians to have him play up to 40 minutes a game (and cause him to be fatigued when the NHL season resumes).

Tarik El-Bashir: Ovechkin will not pay 40 minues a game. But I think the Caps are concerned about all of their Olympic-bound stars. As a team official recently joked, the best case scenario would be no injuries and a USA-Canada final, since the Caps won't have anyone in it.

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Baltimore, MD: What a game! The Superbowl was boring in comparison. But I think the NHL coaches need a red challenge flag like the NFL, when the refs call such a bogus penalty.

Tarik El-Bashir: That might happen. Seriously.

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San Jose, Calif.: Why is Sloan playing? Actually, 2 questions: Why is he playing at all? and Why is he playing defense ahead of Alzner, Carlson, and Erskine - all of whom are better and could use the experience?

Tarik El-Bashir: The Caps believe Tyler Sloan, who recently signed a two year extension, would not clear waivers. Which means they would lose him for nothing.

Karl Alzner and John Carlson are on entry level deals, so they can go up and down as needed.

As Bruce Boudreau told me this morning, when you're young like Karl, it's tough to crack the lineup of a first place team that has won 14 in a row.

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Snovechkin, VA: Do you think the NHL violated safety issues by having the Pens take a 5 hour bus ride on icy roads and freezing temps? I know this is common in the minors but this is the NHL.

Tarik El-Bashir: Yesterday's game was played for one reason: TV ratings.

The NHL knew that with two star-laden marquee teams playing on Super Bowl Sunday, and much of the East snowed in, that they would clean up on ratings.

A big rating for a regular season game is one more tool to use in negotiations (perhaps with ESPN) down the road.

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Woodbridge, VA: Tarik,

I was wondering if you had a chance to read Dan Steinberg's blog about NBC's coverage of yesterday's game and the perceived bias they have for Crosby and the Pens?

Steinberg brings up some good points, especially the ones about Mike Milbury. Your thoughts?

washingtonpost.com: NBC's Caps-Penguins coverage (DC Sports Bog)

Tarik El-Bashir: I did read Steinberg's blog entry. I also covered Mike Milbury when he was GM of the Islanders years ago. So I know all too well that he is not one to bite his tongue.

His job on NBC is to provide commentary, even if it is controversial, and get ratings. People don't tune in to hear boring opinions.

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Tarik El-Bashir: I would love to stick around and answer all of your questions, but I've got to figure out how to get to Montreal on Wednesday with another snowstorm coming our way.

Thanks for stopping by and talk to you soon.

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