Olie Kolzig has been with the Washington Capitals continuously since 1996-97 and has seen a lot of friends depart — through retirement, trade or free agency. None has been closer than Jeff Halpern, now with Dallas, and Mike Grier, now with San Jose.
Kolzig and Halpern will be on the same ice patch tonight, albeit actively rooting against each other, when the Stars play the Caps at Verizon Center. For Kolzig, drafted in 1989, it is another moment in passing, one he has seen all too often in his pro career.
“It’s not old hat because it’s always good to see them again,” Kolzig said yesterday, getting a well-deserved day off after facing 50 shots in a 5-2 win the previous night at Tampa Bay, snapping a six-game losing streak.
“It’s old hat in the sense they’re ex-teammates, and it seems in the last couple years I’ve had a lot of ex-teammates I’ve played against,” the goalie said. “I guess it is old hat because you’d rather have him playing alongside you than against you. I hope we beat them.”
Halpern, the hometown hero who became captain of the Caps, left last summer when Dallas offered a four-year contract at $2 million a season, a much longer deal than Washington was dangling. There also was the lure of playing for Stars assistant coach Ulf Dahlen, who along with Halpern and Steve Konowalchuk made up one of the best checking lines the Caps have had.
“With [defenseman Brendan Witt], you knew he was going to be traded, but with Halpie and Grier, over the course of my career they’ve been the two toughest for me to see go.”
Kolzig and Halpern survived the salary purge of 2003-04, but Grier did not. He was sent to Buffalo for prospect Jakub Klepis, who’s now on the NHL roster, and went to San Jose as a free agent.
Halpern has appeared in all of Dallas’ games, playing more than 16 minutes a night for a team that likes to keep the regular forwards’ playing time pretty close. Before last night he had three goals and eight points with two of his goals game-winners.
“I think Jeff is a very important player for their team,” Caps coach Glen Hanlon said. “You can have lots of skill, but as coaches have said forever, you can’t have all one kind of player. What Jeff does for that group makes it a well-rounded team.”
It is the first of a four-game homestand for Washington, which gives the team a chance to turn things around. This season has been a reversal of form — the Caps have problems at home, whereas last season that was not the case, and they are winning away from home, whereas last season that was impossible.
“I just can’t get ahead of myself,” Hanlon said when asked what he expects from the four games. “I can’t not just look at [the Dallas] game and just get ready for that, knowing how much skill they have in that lineup, and get ready for that. I don’t look at the whole thing, I just look at the [next] game.”
Notes — Veteran Stars center Stu Barnes, another close friend of Kolzig, is scheduled to play in his 1,000th NHL game tonight. …
Caps’ left wing Donald Brashear has completed his three-game suspension and is eligible to return to action, but the coaches are loathe to change winning lineups, so Brashear may sit a while longer. …
Hanlon continued to sing Alexander Semin’s praises after the wing, out four games with a shoulder injury, set up one goal Tuesday night, scored what turned out to be the winner and was plus-2 defensively.