Preview: Capitals vs. Canadiens, Game 1

Apr 15, 2010

Post staff writer Tarik El-Bashir previews the opening game of the Caps-Canadiens first-round playoff series.

I don't know about y0u, but faceoff can't get here soon enough for me. The build-up is getting old and we've still got five hours. So let's chat, shall we? 

Tarik, How far you do think the caps can/will go this year?(assuming they play to their abilities)

At the risk of sounding like a total homer, I don't see any reason they can't be the East's rep in SCF. But, assuming they get that far, I think they'll have trouble with the West's top end teams.

Put to you another way: unlike past years, I have not booked the El-Bashir family vacation yet.

 

Tarik, I have a very important question that will have a huge impact on the outcome of the series... Why are the Canadiens nicknamed the "Habs". Thanks!

It is short for "Les Habitants". Which, according to proicehockey.com is "the informal name given to the original settlers of New France, dating back to the 17th Century."

There's a guy in my neighborhood who has "Les Habs" on his Virginia plates. I always think that's cool when I pass him on Dulles Toll Road.

 

Goerge McPhee on Caps Red Line said that the best part of having Home Ice advantage through the playoffs was that Coach Boudreau will have the advantage in picking lines. I thought I knew a lot about hockey but I am getting stumped on this one.

McPhee was referring to line matching. Because the home team has the last line change before faceoffs, he will have the option of putting his best defensive forward combo and best defense pairing on the ice against the Habs best forwards.

It seems to me that the discussions of the Caps and Canadiens records against each other in the regular season make less sense than usual because all the games were played before the Olympics. I think the Caps are a significantly better team since the Olympics because of the trades they made and the promotion of John Carlson. Do you agree?

I agree. But the biggest reason why the regular season outcomes don't matter much is because neither Jose Theodore nor Jaroslav Halak started any of the four contests.

That's straight up weird.

 

The Canadians sweep the Caps. And the Caps are shut out in two of the games. Caps goal tending is the major problem and the curse of TK.

Let me guess, you're from Montreal. Either that, or you're a longtime Caps fan who's jaded from years of disappointment. (I run into a lot of those).

Either way, I'm pretty sure the Caps won't be swept.

 

 

Hockey seems to be undergoing the kind of evolution soccer went through 15-20 years ago, from a defense-first, long-ball (read: dump-and-chase), BORING approach, to the wide-open, creative, dynamic style that the best teams now play. I want that style to be rewarded because it's the style I want to watch. I want the Caps to win the Stanley Cup for the same reason I want Spain to win the World Cup. So everyone will try harder to imitate the best, most exciting style of play. Do you sense this possible sea-change in the NHL?

That's a great observation. And, yes, it will take the Caps winning the Cup to convert other defensive minded coaches to Bruce Boudreau's style.

If the Caps fall short, though, you can bet everyone will point to them and say, "See, told you that you can't win playing like that in the playoffs."

First in line will, of course, be R.J. Umberger.

 

Seems like every season one or more teams "rises to the occasion" WRT the Stanley Cup, like my Penguins last year! Which teams do you see as having the strongest late-season momentum that might sustain them in the playoffs?

I think Detroit was playing the best down the stretch, which is why so many pundits predicted they would steamroll the Coyotes.

It's still possible, but the Red Wings now have their work cut out for them.

 

Can I ask a newbie question? I've heard that Ovie and Backstrom are on the Cap's "top line" but how do you find out who else (other forward and 2 defensemen) would be out there with them? Does it change from game to game? I only saw rosters on the Caps website, not a breakdown of the lines. Thanks!

Check my Capitals Insider blog. I put the lines and pairings up every game day and practice day.

Tonight, the top line will be Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble.

 

Tarik - Thank you for the excellent coverage and writing throughout this historic year! Is Brendan Morrison still hurt? Flash scares me as the 2nd line center, especially when faceoffs are so crucial during the playoffs...I think he is better on the wing. Your thoughts?

I do not think Brendan Morrison is still hurt. I just think that Coach Boudreau thinks the second line of Laich-Fleischmann-Semin is a better matchup against the smaller, faster Habs.

I will say this: If Flash wins 35 percent of his faceoffs tonight, BB will have to consider making a change because Laich and Semin are too talented to spend all night chasing the puck.

I also think that if the Caps meet the Pens again, Flash can't be the second line center. The Caps will need to go Backstrom-Morrison-Belanger-Steckel down the middle against Crosby-Malkin-Staal-Adams/Rupp.

 

 

 

 

I'm not a huge hockey fan but am excited that our Caps are in the playoffs. I keep reading that they are almost expected to be in the Stanley Cup finals this year. How far do you see them doing in the playoffs?

Anything short of making the franchise's second SCF appearance will be a big time letdown. That's what happens when you win the Presidents' Trophy. Expectactions are huge as they're 121 point total.

 

As a journalist are you supposed to take an impartial position or do you find yourself cheering for the caps and guys that you spend all year interviewing and watching practice?

I sleep the same whether the Caps win or lose. 

But there are two things things I was thinking about this morning on the drive to KCI:

1) Covering a winning locker room in the playoffs is much more fun than a losing locker room. Last year after the Caps went down 3-1 against the Rangers, no one wanted to see me.

2) And for purely selfish reasons, if the Caps get past the second round, they might as well go the whole darn way.

 

 

Over the last two years, the Penguins have never been charged with more penalties than the Caps. Not once in 15 games. Over that time, the Penguins have had about twice as many power play opportunities. Fans from other teams grading the refs have said there is clear bias against Washington. If the two teams play again in the playoffs, will the Caps have to play twice as good as the Penguins in order to win? Will the refs or the league ever be called out over this in the media?

I hear what you're saying. Reporters are aware of the stats.

But I'm sitting here talking to colleague Corey Masisak, and neither one of us can remember covering a recent Caps-Pens game where we thought to ourselves, 'Man, the refs are really going out of their way to hose the Caps.'

Also, you've got to remember that the Caps were one of the most undisciplined teams in hockey (maybe in pro sports) last season. So that could have something to do with it.

I can promise you this: I will keep closer track if the two teams meet this season since the Caps have been so much more disciplined this season.

 

 

 

 

 

What is your prediction for this series? And who do you think becomes the unsung hero that every Cup team has?

I think the Caps will (and need to) get it done in five games.

The unsung hero will be Brooks Laich.

 

My concern is that Jose Theodore might not be able to adequately withstand the pressure of playing in Montreal, based on his past history there. Do you envision a goaltending change in game 3, particularly if the teams split the first two games?

Are you sure you weren't sitting here in the press room  at KCI earlier? We've been debating that for some time now.

I think it's all up to Jose. If he plays well down here and they split anyway, of course he's back in goal for Game 3. If they split and Jose has an off night in Game 2, then all bets are off.

That's one thing about Coach Boudreau. He's got little patience with his goaltenders. As he once said famously, "Stop the puck" when asked what he expected from his goalie that night.

 

Hockey looks great in HD, but I don't pay Comcast to get it, only over the air. Are any of the games scheduled for broadcast TV?

I'm less concerned about the Caps' defense than I am about the whole five-man unit paying solid defensively. The blue liners take a lot of heat sometimes when the team's non-backchecking forwards are equally to blame.

 

Did you play hockey as a kid?

I did. Briefly with Montgomery. For a time with the Cap Boys. A few years in high school at Good Counsel. And a few years as an adult before family commitments got in the way.

I was a goalie. I was terrible. It also took my until I was 20 to pay off all of my credit card debt related to goalie equipment.

Now my six year old plays. Must be payback for what I did to my parents' bank account. Funny how things come full circle, isn't it?

 

 

 

 

First off, thanks for the great job you do providing great Caps coverage in the multi-horse town, unlike Montreal which is a one trick pony. Have you talked with any of the Montreal media over the past few days about what their thoughts on the series is. Most pundits seem to view the Habs as having no shot (dangerous thinking), but what do they think since the Montreal media have such a love/hate relationship with the Habs?

I have talked to many of the beat reporters from Montreal (and there are about a dozen of them and many of them are good friends of mine.)

I do not get the impression from our conversations that they are planning for this series to go long. Like everyone else, they've got concerns about the way the Habs finished out the regular season with losses to the Islanders, Hurricanes and Maple Leafs and Montreal's inability to generate much in the way of offense at even strength.

It would be interesting to see how many of them have booked flights back DC for Game 5. I'll ask around tonight. Check back next chat.

 

Is BLaich ready to get rid of the cage and maybe wear a shield?

I don't know.

I joked with him the other day about wearing the Dany Heatley looking visor in practice. He didn't laugh. In fact, he told me I was "shunned" for the next few days and would have to go through his agent, Boyd Gordon, for future interviews. Seriously.

If I were him, I would wear that cage until the trainer said it's 100-percent safe to take it off. Then, I would put a normal visor on.

 

I could've sworn that the Post reported Theo was hit by an Ovi shot and that set off Boudreau today. What say you?

I don't know who it could have been. I wrote the blog post about Theo's injury and never mentioned Ovechkin. I asked around and couldn't get a straight answer, so I left it out instead of speculating, you know, journalism 101 stuff.

 

 

FYI: Dale Hunter of the London Knights is the 2009-10 winner of the Matt Leyden Trophy awarded to the OHL's Coach of the Year. [OHL]

Congrats to Dale. And my apologies for "butt" dialing him from my Backberry the other day. Complete accident.

The Habs will be a tough out. The Caps will be introduced to a whole new world when they go play in Montreal in the playoffs. They'd better win the first 2 games in DC.

I don't know what effect the crowd has on visiting players. But, personally, I love the atmosphere there.

Thanks for joining me today. I'm sure we'll have a few more of these this spring. So be sure to keep an eye on the schedule. Until then, take care.

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Tarik El-Bashir
Tarik El-Bashir covers the Washington Capitals ice hockey team and the NHL.
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