- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2001

The decidedly unscientific formula used to determine who starts in goal for the Washington Capitals is a "feel" coach Ron Wilson gets. There is no exact definition of what the feel is, not even a twitch from an old knee injury.

"It's just a feel," Wilson said somewhat defensively yesterday after announcing that Olie Kolzig, not Craig Billington, would be in goal tonight against Phoenix at MCI Center.

"You're looking to see if he looks tired, if he's giving up soft goals, how hard has our travel been, what time did we get in, how hard have we been practicing there's a lot of different things that you sort of grind up and see what comes out," Wilson said.

In other words, no game plan was mapped out over the summer to determine how many games Kolzig will play during a season when the 82-game schedule has been compressed for a 14-day Olympic break. The season started Oct. 3 and will end April 14, barring unforeseen problems, six days later than last year.

A complicating factor is the German Olympic team for which Kolzig will start if it qualifies for the Salt Lake Games. In that case, he gets no break while many of his teammates get a week off to let bumps and bruises heal.

"But Olie may not even be in the Olympics," Wilson said. "Olie seems to play better when the volume goes up, not when you turn it down. He was great in the playoffs last year and everybody wondered when he was going to get a break.

"[Kolzig's workload is determined] by feel, how he feels and how the coaches feel about the situation," Wilson said. "You'd want Billington to play a few more games than he did last year [12, with a 2.45 goals-against average], but there's no real plan."

And no complaint from Billington either. He was brought in two years ago with the specific understanding that he was the backup, that the No. 1 spot had already been decided. He has never argued the point, and the two men get along handsomely.

For his part, Kolzig loves playing and would like to play every game, something that hasn't been done since E.J. Johnston did it with Boston in 1963-64. But in Johnston's day, the regular season was only 70 games. Kolzig has played in more games than that for two straight seasons.

And how does Kolzig know when it's time to step aside, even for a night?

"If it's a long travel schedule, that takes a lot out of you physically," he said. "Maybe you're tired mentally. If you play a lot of games in a short period, you're not as sharp as you'd like to be, you're letting in suspect goals, you're grinding trying to find the puck through traffic, having to concentrate to keep the holes closed. That's when you have to be mentally tough. Anybody can play when they're hot; when you have to battle for every stop or you're down early and you're trying to keep your team in it, that's when it's tough."

That's when Wilson might get a feel, when the call goes out.

"My role is to play exactly when they want me to… to be prepared and ready no matter what," said Billington, who has been in 28 Caps games in three seasons, started 22 but only three at home. "What's a good number? There is no ideal number. What you have to do is be prepared to play at any minute under any circumstances, give Olie support off and on the ice and play well when the team needs me."


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