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Boudreau: Caps' top line is 'slightly missing'

Washington CapitalsMike Knuble gets stuffed by Boston goalie Tim Thomas. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

While the Capitals' top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble has created its share of offensive chances and combined for 14 points (6 goals 8 assists) through the first six games of the year, the group isn't firing on all cylinders quite yet.

"They're going to always create chances no matter who they play, but I can tell when they're on top of their game, and they're slightly missing," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I don't know how to describe it, but I've been with Nick for over three years now and I know when he's on top of his game what's going to happen, and when Alex is on top of his game what's going to happen. Whether it's body language or the look in their eye or the way they're handling themselves. Mike Knuble, whether he scores goals or he doesn't, seems to be doing the same thing every day. [It] doesn't look like he's slowed down at all; he's just a battler and his goals will come."

Whether that's a product of the trio getting re-acclimated to each other at the beginning of the season, the efforts of opposing defenses and lines against them or a combination of the two, Boudreau knows the pace will pick up and doesn't worry about his top line's ability to succeed together.

"I'm not worried about them as a line, of course," Boudreau said. "They're one of the best lines in the league and I guarantee when teams are talking about our team, they're talking about that line."

As Boudreau pointed out, Backstrom's tendency is to start a little slow while Ovechkin's is to kick off the year with a strong offensive showing. Through the first 10 games of the the 2009-10 season, Ovechkin tallied nine goals and eight assists while Backstrom had two goals and nine assists, but was held without a point in six contests.

"It's alright so far, but we can be way better, I think," said Backstrom, who enters tonight's game with four points (1G, 3A). "I think we have to crash the net a little bit more and maybe we have to pass the puck a little bit more. We had our chances, but the puck has just been bouncing and hopefully it's going to bounce our way soon."

Against the Bruins on Tuesday, the top line was on the ice for both of the Bruins' first goals. Another minus-2 finish isn't something that any member of that group wants to relive at the Garden tonight.

"They outplayed us. That's all there is," Mike Knuble said. "We want to try to even it back up this time."

By Katie Carrera  | October 21, 2010; 1:56 PM ET
Categories:  Alex Ovechkin, Bruce Boudreau, Mike Knuble, Nicklas Backstrom  
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Next: Tonight's lineup: Caps at Bruins

Comments

@ablake

I think you are misinterpreting what I meant in that comment. I don't think you would hear an argument from me or anyone else in stating BB and GMGM share responsibility for the on-ice product. I was one of many who called for major shifts in management, and even went as far as to say that it's time to find a new GM, during the summer. I also placed heavy criticism on BB, acknowledging his lack of adapting as games flowed on, lack of holding players accountable, etc. However, I did not call for BB to ever be displaced. What I meant in the comment was two-fold. 1) I don't see anything inherently wrong with BB's system, nor do I see some giant discrepancy in BB's system in comparison to other systems. 2) Whether or not the system is the problem, it does not change the fact that I, with my physical eyeballs, see individual mistakes, which have led to almost every single goal this season. Furthermore, I ask what does changing the system have to do with Alzner, or any other defender, stepping up on a play to make a hit, thus throwing himself completely out of position and a 2 on 1 back the other way? What does changing the system have to do with losing puck battles behind the net and along the boards in general? What does changing the system have to do with guys making no-look passes to no one? From there, I beg the question what difference does it make to critique the system now, when individual mistakes would happen regardless of the system?
What pragmatic solutions come about by demonizing the system and GMGM's lack of moves? I don't see any..the season has started, the time for macro criticism is over. We aren't floundering like the Sabres or Devils. Now, what pragmatic solutions come about by critiquing the actual play of players? I see many, and as the season starts, it's time to wipe the slate clean for every player, including Flash, and focus more on the micro criticism of the team. Criticism which matters right now.

Posted by: richmondphil2 | October 21, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

@ richmondphil2

I agree about the system. I don't think this team is built to play a more defensive or physical style. As far as players making mistakes, I blame the coach. The board work and passes have been a problem since the BB era began. Does he work on these aspects of the game in practice? According to Mike Green, BB just "kinda lets their skill take over" when devising the PP. If this is the case, why am I to believe the guy works on passing in practice?. Let's say he does spend practice going over details and the players still don't improve, why doesn't he ask GMGM to stop resigning these guys. This summer, the Caps had a chance to cut ties with 7 guys on the current roster, instead they were all resigned. Whether that is GMGM or Bruce, I don't know. What I will place at the feet of BB are the bad pinches by the D. Do you honestly think guys like Erskine and Alzner who ever pinch if BB hadn't made it a requirement? These guys know their ice time depends on their offensive contribution.

BB is a great motivator, but I think he has taken the team as far as he can. They are regressing. It might be too early (or too late) to talk about replacing GMGM, but its not too early to evaluate BB.

Posted by: ablake70 | October 21, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

I'll add that finding a coach, even an assistant, who focuses on the fundamentals would help this year.

Posted by: ablake70 | October 21, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Wow, the Caps really miss Bradley and Gordon...

I would take Spezza in a heartbeat...

Spezza, Richards would be awesome...it would be great for Semin and Laich (our version of Alfredsson and Fisher for Spezza)...

Money is easy to make work. Fleishman and Fehr should be first...maybe throw in an Erskine (to get money off the books)....

Then acquire another defenseman down the road...

Posted by: SoaringCaps | October 21, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

a couple of posts ago there was some debate about the kovalchuk cap hit vs ovi's ($6.66M to $9.538M) and that kovalchuk's is a bargain - which it is

because of their age difference - 3 yrs and the age which the ovi's contract expires - i think a better comparison would be using their salaries at the same ages. kovalchuk's contract starts this year - he's 27 and ovi's contract ends when kovalchuk is 34.
using those 8 years here is the breakdown
kovalchuk: 6, 6, 11, 11.3, 11.3, 11.6, 11.8, 10 = $79M
ovi: 9, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10 = $79
to me they both are making $9.875 per year for comparable years of service

is ovi worth almost $3M more a year than kovalchuk - imo no. but their compensation for peak years is the same

Posted by: Capt_Kirk_in_AZ | October 21, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Of course BB isn't worried. He's too dumb dumb to know what "adjustments" mean. It's not in his coaching reportoire.

As for OV-errated and his crew of slobs, get used to being shut down by workman like teams such as the Bruins. These guys will never learn and figure it out. No heart, no work ethic and no hockey intelligence.

But OV and his buddies sure know how to have fun and party. That's all that really matters.

Posted by: BigGameSid | October 21, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

BigGameSid:
good one - you've got ovi and the caps down pat
sid move into his new place yet?

Posted by: Capt_Kirk_in_AZ | October 21, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Richmond Phil and Blake,

Are you guys serious?? We are talking about the overwhelmingly best team in the Eastern Conference last year. Our core nucleus of talent are all 24, 25 or younger. Our minor league team is absolutely stacked with players ready to step up and take their shot. The absolute only thing that is holding our team back is experience, which has shown in the playoffs. GMGM has built a team that can contend for years to come, not just a year or two - which not many teams in the NHL can say to their credit. The fact that we have resigned all of our free agents just shows our commitment and the players belief in the organization. Do you remember what it was like being a caps fan 3 years ago??? Slow your roll, be patient, the season JUST started. We need our fans to support and believe, not critisize and call people out.

On the topic of Bruce Boudreau, he is an absolute BOSS. He runs the show, and the players respond to and respect him. This season is 6 games old. We are building a team that is fast becoming a model NHL and overall sports franchise. Once again, please be patient, dont forget where we were at as an organization 3-4 years ago. We were at rock bottom. Like I said just believe and support because this team is going to make history, and it might be a lot sooner than you think.

Posted by: capsfreak66 | October 21, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Still can't get over BB pulling Jose Theodore last season, I think it was really our time last season, BB doesn't inspire confidence, and clearly he lost belief in Theodore after we rode him all season, and even with the fact that he had lost his son earlier, and I blame the slow start on BB, he points out that the 1st line ain't up to par, maybe that's because they ain't getting there for YOU!

Posted by: franktiger | October 21, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

@capsfreak66:
Hershey is no longer "absolutely stacked with players ready to step up and take their shot" since Alzner, Carlson, and Neuvirth are all in DC FT.

Gordon, Bouchard, and Perreault doesn't qualify as stacked as last year when it was "Bourque, Alzner, Carlson, and Neuvirth" in addition to "Gordon, Bouchard, and Perreault"


2011 Bears stats:
http://theahl.com/stats/statdisplay.php?type=skaters&subType=10&season_id=34&leagueId=4&lastActive=&singleSeason=&confId=0

Posted by: FrankM73 | October 21, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

It is not too early to fix this teams problems, but it may be too late. Teams are gonna have to be out of the playoff picture before they deal, and even then, may not deal.

Time to fix the team was the summer. Now we are forced to play the guys we have. McPhee backed this team into a corner.
Flash is not a freaking center.

Posted by: underpants2 | October 21, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

By the way, anyone look at what Dion Phaneuf is doing? Captain of the first-place Leafs. How we let him get away last year is a travesty. We had so much more than the Leafs to give and we would have had a 26 year-old close down defenseman. Imagine what he could have done for us during the playoffs. A huge mistake by GMGM.

Posted by: bjoad2 | October 21, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

@bjoad2:
Ummmmm, What? When did the Caps ever have Phaneuf?

Posted by: FrankM73 | October 21, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

According to Mike Green, BB just "kinda lets their skill take over" when devising the PP. If this is the case, why am I to believe the guy works on passing in practice?.
--------------

A lot of good points there, @ablake. That PP quote kinda jumped out at me, too. And the passing - the other game Laich put it BEHIND Flash on a 3-on-2, throwing him offsides - we're taught not to do that at age 6! How is that even possible, for an alleged "top-6 forward," to flub a simple headman pass like that??

When Mario first skated with Gretzky on Team Canada, he was said to be amazed at how much time 99 practicing fundamental, simple passes, both giving and receiving - every practice he worked on them religiously. And this from arguably one of the best passers of all-time!

As for the PP, well, if they're just letting the guys free-wheel and improvise the entire time, no wonder opposing PK coaches [who study opposing PPs for a living] are starting to pick them apart.

Posted by: Timbo_1 | October 21, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

@biggamesid

shutdown by workman teams like the bruins? so they beat us what once out of the past 10 times they played us

Posted by: _stevo | October 21, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Oh yeah - how is it that BB criticizes the top line, all except for Knuble? I mean, I like Knuble and all, but if he's not banging bodies and crashing the net - which I have not seen a ton of from him so far - what exactly does he bring to the table?

I've been a pretty consistent defender of BB [as opposed to another member of management!] but the selective favoritism can wear a little thin. Or maybe it is just his way of motivating Ovie and Backstrom, who can take it. But, still.

Posted by: Timbo_1 | October 21, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Phaneuf was available from Calgary before the trade deadline last year and the Leafs got him. We clearly could have put together a better package.

Posted by: bjoad2 | October 21, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Phaneuf is a very, very good hockey player - but I wonder if Calgary would have given him to us for what TO was able to give up. Not sure that was it, just wonderin'...

Posted by: Timbo_1 | October 21, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

Phaneuf had run his course in Calgary. They liked Bouwmeester more and the Caps would have had to give up a fwd, young defenseman, or a Flash type to land Phaneuf (who at the time was struggling). Sometimes teams like (TOR) get lucky with the right trades. Matt Stajan, Ian White, Nik Hagman were all role players...the deal worked for CAL and TOR...

Phaneuf and Sjostrom for Fleischmann, Carlson, and Fehr would have had people in DC ready to hang McPhee...

Trades are the WRONG way to build a team. Draft + Free Agency = SUCCESS.

Trading the farm for a vet is rarely a good deal. And trading a vet for bit parts is also rarely a good deal unless you find a needle in a haystack (rights to Brooks Laich + 2nd rounder in '05, for Bondra)...

The only trades that work are trades that allow you to cut bait with something and turn it into high picks. Look at how stockpiling helped drafts like 2006, where we got Backie, Varly, Neuvie, and Bouchard in the first 2 rounds. Or 2004 when we landed Ovie, Green, and Schultz in Round 1...

Trades are just a way to restock picks...there should be no talk of $7M/yr Spezza for the next 5 years (he is under contract)...or Phaneuf-type d-men...

Demote Sloan, bring up Collins. Trade Flash for a 1st rounder, and a top level prospect. Bring up MP85...DONE!

Posted by: netminder71 | October 21, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

@netminder - you make a lot of good points [although I'm higher on Flash than many are here] but this one:

"Phaneuf and Sjostrom for Fleischmann, Carlson, and Fehr would have had people in DC ready to hang McPhee..."

Is very prescient - in 2-3 years, i.e. at the ripe old age of 22-23, John Carlson will be a more complete and better all-around d-man than Dion Phaneuf. Yup, I said it.

Posted by: Timbo_1 | October 21, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Phaneuf has a pretty large contract. His salary would have been an impediment to the Caps in trying to acquire him.

Posted by: sgm3 | October 21, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

I agree totally with you Timbo

in 2yrs Carlson will be a perennial Norris candidate, and Phaneuf will still be a relative bust from his pre-career projections.

Trading Carlson away would be or would have been stupid.

Posted by: netminder71 | October 21, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

is ovi worth almost $3M more a year than kovalchuk - imo no. but their compensation for peak years is the same


Posted by: Capt_Kirk_in_AZ | October 21, 2010 2:47 PM

Appreciate the breakdown there, I was wondering about that myself.

I agree that as far as production and talent goes a 3 mil difference may not be justified, but what probably more than compensates for that is the fact that Ovie was drafted here and has grown here, he's arguably the most popular D.C. athlete, he puts fans in the seats, and rejuvenated a franchise. All that is worth the extra dough.

Posted by: saltine182 | October 21, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

Demote Sloan, bring up Collins. Trade Flash for a 1st rounder, and a top level prospect. Bring up MP85...DONE!

Posted by: netminder71

No way you get a top level prospect and a first for flash. You you probably wouldn't get either.

Posted by: underpants2 | October 21, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

It's a little early to be handing the Norris to Carlson.

The kid has potential, but I don't think he has best d-man in the league upside.

Posted by: Steve_R | October 21, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Calgary would have jumped on any deal for Phaneuf that included Semin because they were (and still are) dying for a goal scorer. Semin never will be a necessity for this team to win a cup and he likely will be gone after his contract is up anyhow. I would have done Semin and Sloan for Phaneuf in a nano second and it would have solved the D situation without hurting the cap. The point is that GMGM had lots of options and never even tried.

Posted by: bjoad2 | October 21, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

bjoad2,

How do you know he never tried?

Posted by: Steve_R | October 21, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

GMGM stated in a Caps conference call in response to a direct question that he was not looking for big defenseman, but rather simply wanted more defensmen who could move the puck quickly and fit into the Caps system. So he went after Joe Corvo and we know how well that turned out.

Posted by: bjoad2 | October 21, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Some Caps draft tidbits if you were not already impressed by how McPhee turns vets and busts into drat gems:

2008, Caps jettison Steve Eminger for a 1st round pick from Philly. The Caps use their own 1st Rounder to draft Anton "The Bust" Gustafsson. Then use Philly's 1st Rounder to draft John Carlson. Good work McPhee! Without this pick, no #74 and no value out of a 1st round.

2006, Trade Deadline, Caps dump disgruntled bust Brendan Witt (I have a signed jersey if anyone needs toilet paper) to Nashville, for a 1st Round Pick which becomes Semyon Varlamov.

On the flip side, we gave up Pothier, Osala, and a 2nd Round pick in this next draft for Joe "Poop on a Stick" Corvo.

I am totally against veteran acquisitions under times of duress like the trade deadline....if your team doesn't have what it takes to win a cup in the first 70 games of the season. adding someone at a high price for the final 12 games isn't going to help much...only a few choice future hall of famers ever make an impact (Recchi, Guerin, Bourque, etc).

Posted by: netminder71 | October 21, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Demote Sloan, bring up Collins. Trade Flash for a 1st rounder, and a top level prospect. Bring up MP85...DONE!

Posted by: netminder71

No way you get a top level prospect and a first for flash. You you probably wouldn't get either.

Posted by: underpants2 | October 21, 2010 4:51 PM

I meant high draft pick OR a prospect...which we could get for Flash, but agree not both.

Posted by: netminder71 | October 21, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

@Everyone saying "we let Phaneuf get away":

Those who have long familiarity with my posts know that if I could choose any single active NHL player to add to the Caps' roster, it would be Dion Phaneuf: a guy who hits like Pronger but is also young (and not a collossal DB)!

The problem was not that "GMGM slacked off" as the haters may claim, but that Calgary's GM wanted more in return that GMGM (or you, or I) would have wanted to give up in return. Not to mention that Phaneuf's contract had the potential to put us in salary cap purgatory.


Put another way: sure we'd all love to have Phaneuf, but what at what price?

Laich and Green?
Semin and Varlamov?
Fehr and Carlson and our next 5 first-round picks?
35 bars of Gold-pressed Latinum?
20 kilos of Prador diamond slate?
The next six months' worth of Spice harvested from Arrakis?
All your base are belong to us?

It would almost certainly have ended up being something along those lines, because Calgary's GM wouldn't have accepted any single player (or at least any single player not named Backstrom or Ovechkin) in trade for Phaneuf. He may be dumb (viz. re-signing Olli Jokinnen), but he isn't Glen Sather dumb.

So, to summarize:

I like Dion too, but we can't have him, so let's focus on what is possible:


Flash and picks to Vancouver for Bieksa...and while we're at it, see if they'll take Sloan too.

Posted by: Rhino40 | October 21, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

All that is worth the extra dough.

Posted by: saltine182 | October 21, 2010 4:51 PM

if the nhl had a 'franchise' tag for a player - ovi would be it for the caps. i think he easily generates more income for the caps than kovalchuk does for nj to make up the $3M cap hit difference

Posted by: Capt_Kirk_in_AZ | October 21, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

@Everyone saying "we let Phaneuf get away":

Those who have long familiarity with my posts know that if I could choose any single active NHL player to add to the Caps' roster, it would be Dion Phaneuf: a guy who hits like Pronger but is also young (and not a collossal DB)!

The problem was not that "GMGM slacked off" as the haters may claim, but that Calgary's GM wanted more in return that GMGM (or you, or I) would have wanted to give up in return. Not to mention that Phaneuf's contract had the potential to put us in salary cap purgatory.


Put another way: sure we'd all love to have Phaneuf, but what at what price?

Laich and Green?
Semin and Varlamov?
Fehr and Carlson and our next 5 first-round picks?
35 bars of Gold-pressed Latinum?
20 kilos of Prador diamond slate?
The next six months' worth of Spice harvested from Arrakis?
All your base are belong to us?

It would almost certainly have ended up being something along those lines, because Calgary's GM wouldn't have accepted any single player (or at least any single player not named Backstrom or Ovechkin) in trade for Phaneuf. He may be dumb (viz. re-signing Olli Jokinnen), but he isn't Glen Sather dumb.

So, to summarize:

I like Dion too, but we can't have him, so let's focus on what is possible:


Flash and picks to Vancouver for Bieksa...and while we're at it, see if they'll take Sloan too.

Posted by: Rhino40 | October 21, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

Phaneuf was available from Calgary before the trade deadline last year and the Leafs got him. We clearly could have put together a better package.

Posted by: bjoad2
----
fair enough... what package, probably similar to Toronto's, do you think the Caps would have been able to offer?

The trade was, at the time...
To TORONTO:
D-Dion Phaneuf, 6.5 mil, 4 yrs
RW-Fredrik Sjostrom, 750k, 2 yrs
D-Keith Aulie, 733k, 3yrs
Total salary: 7.983mil

To CALGARY:
D-Ian White, 850k, 1 yr (resigned 3mil, 1 yr)
C-Matt Stajan, 1.750mil, 1 yr (resigned 3.5mil, 4yrs)
LW-Niklas Hagman, 3mil, 3 yrs
RW-Jamal Mayers, 1.333mil, 1 yr (signed w/Sharks for 600k, 1 yr)
Total salary: 6.933mil

NOTE: no prospects went Calgary's way, all FT players!

----
Trying to be similar to what TO gave up...
To WASHINGTON:
D-Dion Phaneuf, 6.5 mil, 4 yrs
RW-Fredrik Sjostrom, 750k, 2 yrs
D-Keith Aulie, 733k, 3yrs
Total salary: 7.983mil

To TORONTO:
D-Schultz, 725k, 1yr (resigned for 2.75mil, 4 yrs)
C-Laich, 2.067mil, 2yrs
LW-Chimera, 1.875mil, 3yrs
RW/C-Gordon, 761k, 1 yr (resigned for 800k 1yr)
Total salary: 5.528mil

Capitals 09-10 capgeek archive salary's:
http://www.capgeek.com/archive/team.php?Team=30
----

Who knows what it would have taken... but that above is a lot to give up!

Posted by: FrankM73 | October 21, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

if the nhl had a 'franchise' tag for a player - ovi would be it for the caps. i think he easily generates more income for the caps than kovalchuk does for nj to make up the $3M cap hit difference


Posted by: Capt_Kirk_in_AZ | October 21, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

You are so right! If you follow it you'll see that the Devils' attendance is actually the lowest it's been for the first games since they moved to the Prudential Center in 2007. And I understand that his signing (either the first or the final one) did not send people clamoring for season tickets. So the reason why the Devils went so hard after Kovy - to sell tickets, in my opinion at the insistence of the owner, not LL - hasn't happened yet.

Remember Brodeur's comment in the press after the 7-2 loss on opening night at the Verizon Center - they weren't used to playing in an arena that was (paraphrasing) so crazy, loud and red! It was such a great quote that the Caps used it in the opening video at the VC on Tuesday.

Posted by: Thisistheyear | October 21, 2010 5:17 PM | Report abuse

@Steve_R - um, I said in two years he'd be "better all-around and more complete d-man" than Phaneuf. One will be a fixture on his national team in big tourneys; the other, not so much.

Posted by: Timbo_1 | October 21, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse

last year and this year are 2 different years.the canadians exposed boudreaus system and has shown the whole nhl how to slow down and beat the caps.it's time for this team to go into a new direction.bruce has done a fine job,but his sytem no longer works and he has taken this bunch as far as he can.

Posted by: billydee123 | October 21, 2010 9:14 PM | Report abuse

As the Caps are now behind 3-0 to Boston, on their way to another loss, to a tough team with a front-line goalie, it occurs to me:

1. The goalies we have simply will not cut it come playoff time. Too young, too fragile-psychologically AND physically.

2. Caps still don't have enough toughness, especially on the blue line. The need last year (and the one before that, and the one before that, etc...)for a top-notch, stay-at-home defensive D-man or two has not been addressed & is still glaring.

Maybe the young goalies, Alzner, and/or Carlson develop enough over the season to get the job done in the playoffs, but I doubt it, based on the last couple of years. Which means that we'll be shopping (once again) come trade deadline time, or out of the playoffs early yet again.

Am I wrong?

Posted by: nyskinsdiehard | October 21, 2010 9:17 PM | Report abuse

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