- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2000

How good is Olie Kolzig?

Washington Capitals coach Ron Wilson thinks his goalie could be the Most Valuable Player in the NHL.

"I think he is a strong MVP candidate," Wilson said.

How good is Olie Kolzig?

He didn't play Tuesday night, and the Caps lost to Ottawa 4-0.

With apologies to Craig Billington, it's clear the Caps' hopes ride on the shoulders of Kolzig.

"Where would we be without him?" Wilson asked, not wanting to ponder such possibilities for very long. "That's not a knock on Craig Billington, but our confidence has grown so much because we know how good Olie is."

How good is Olie Kolzig?

He has five shutouts this year and has gone from a goals-against average of 3.52 in October to 2.25 in March and 2.3 overall. He has a save percentage of 91.6 over 71 games and has been in goal for 40 of the Caps' 43 wins. That puts him in the same category as New Jersey's Martin Brodeur (42) and St. Louis' Roman Turek (41) the first time in league history three goaltenders have won 40 games in the same season.

More importantly, he has become the anchor of a Caps franchise that has been reborn under the direction of Wilson, general manager George McPhee and new owners Ted Leonsis and Jon Ledecky.

"He affects us in a lot of ways," Wilson said. "Offensively, we are better, and defensively we are better because we know if we make a mistake, Olie is going to bail us out. So we tend to be a lot more aggressive and take more risks when you know your goalie is on top of his game."

It has been a remarkable turnaround for Kolzig (who is 30 today), the Caps' No. 1 choice in the 1989 entry draft who spent seven seasons bouncing between the minor leagues and brief appearances with Washington before finally emerging as a bona fide quality NHL goalie two years ago. Not coincidentally, that was the year the Caps enjoyed their greatest success, making it to the Stanley Cup finals.

Also not coincidentally, that was the first year for Wilson and goaltenders coach Dave Pryor.

Since then, Kolzig has made his mark as not just a top NHL goalie but also as perhaps the best goalie in the history of the franchise. He ranks first in career save percentage and shutouts and is second in career wins for goalies with 117, just behind Don Beaupre's 128. And those 40 wins are a single-season record.

More importantly, he holds the franchise single-season playoff records in wins (12), save percentage (.941) and shutouts (four).

That means the Caps will be going into the playoffs with the best playoff goalie they have had. Kolzig is even better than he was in 1998, and, Wilson believes, so is the team around him.

"We have more balance than two years ago," Wilson said. "We have four lines that can hurt you right now, and our defense is much deeper. We had more defensemen [two years ago], but we didn't have enough defensemen who I could say I was comfortable with in key situations. Now I'm comfortable with any of the seven defensemen we have playing against the best people on the other team. I don't think there are many teams in the league that can really say that."

When a team believes in its goalie like the Caps do, then it has to believe it has a chance to win the Stanley Cup because the playoffs are a goalie's time.

"Historically, the teams that have the best goaltending and stayed healthy during the playoffs have the chance to win and do win," Wilson said. "That's usually what it comes down to. Olie was great two years ago, but people overlooked how good Chris Osgood had played for the Red Wings. He played great. That's what it comes down to. If your goalie rises to the occasion, you're going to win."

One of Wilson's tasks in this final week of the regular season is to make sure Kolzig continues to rise to the occasion.

"We want to make sure that Olie is focused going in and on top of his game the way he is right now and the way we are playing right now in front of him, anything is possible," Wilson said.

How good is Olie Kolzig?

"With Olie, we feel we can win on any given night," center Adam Oates said.

He's that good.

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