- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 18, 2001

Last week, as he was leading the Washington Capitals toward the .500 mark, goalie Olie Kolzig remarked that he thought the team was on the verge of playing the kind of hockey that usually propels it close to the top of the standings. His steady play is no small reason why.
Then Kolzig ran his number of sick days this century to three and the team he was bragging about, short its goaltender and two-thirds of one of its best lines, went out and won without him to reach .500 (14-14-5).
Kolzig should be back tomorrow night when the Caps start their three-game countdown to the holidays, facing the newly energized Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Fla., with "Iron" Mike Keenan now in control behind the bench.
The big goalie missed Saturday night's 5-2 victory over Atlanta nursing not a sprained ankle but a deep bone bruise suffered two nights earlier against Boston. Kolzig tested the ankle Friday and Saturday morning before deciding the safest thing for the team was to take the night off. Craig Billington took over and earned his 106th career victory.
"Whenever I'd go down in the butterfly and try to recover, my skate would dig into where the irritation was and made my lower leg weak," Kolzig said yesterday after taking the full practice, which he admitted surprised even him. "It went pretty well. I think I'll be OK for Wednesday."
The rulings for center Andrei Nikolishin and right wing Dainius Zubrus will have to wait. Nikolishin, out with a bruised leg, will try to skate today and a decision will be made after practice. Zubrus, out with a slight groin pull, tried to skate yesterday but took himself off the ice within minutes, meaning he may sit a few more days.
Two defensive standouts, left wing Steve Konowalchuk and defenseman Calle Johansson, are missing long-term, making the climb back to .500 even more impressive.
"It was a great overall team effort and that's what we need," coach Ron Wilson said, when asked to single out some players who have excelled recently. "You need 18 skaters getting the job done. Billington stepped up and got the job done as well. Too many people have enough pressure on them without the coach applying more. Guys got the job done and that's what we're happy with."
The Caps are on an 8-3-3 run, their best long stretch of the season, with most facets of the team's game operating well.
"I think we're playing fine right now," Wilson said. "We're trying to make up as much ground as we can. We find ourselves right in the thick of the playoff race again and if we just keep playing the way we have been for the past month, we're going to be fine."
Keenan recently took over his seventh NHL team and started installing his disciplined system immediately. He guided the Panthers to their first two-game winning streak of the season and did it on the road.
"When a team makes a coaching change the first dozen games or so you're going to see an improvement and I think that's the case here," Wilson said. "They're probably going to play more aggressive than they have earlier in the season."

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