- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 29, 2002

Much has been said about why the Washington Capitals missed the playoffs last season, and a lot of it has centered on goalie Olie Kolzig and a knee injury he suffered Feb.8 at Nashville.
"It was one of those things, bad timing," Kolzig said yesterday. He paused, then added, "I don't know if it affected my play at all, really. It was something I had to deal with. I hadn't had an injury in a while, and I wasn't about to let this thing slow me down or use it as an excuse as to why we didn't make the playoffs."
There are a lot of things that could be blamed for the collapse of a team picked by many in the preseason as the Eastern Conference finalist, and Kolzig's injury is just one. There were significant injuries to key defensive players, the usual plodding start, an adjustment period for the Caps and Jaromir Jagr to get used to each other and a defensive collapse that made a mockery of the team's long-standing defensive tradition.
While it appeared Kolzig did not react as well as usual after his injury, statistically he is correct. He had a record of 19-23-6 before his injury and was 12-6-2 after. He acknowledged that the team's late play was not enough to make up for the usual early swoon that carried far deeper into the season than normal last year.
"Had we played a little better in November [5-7-2] and December [5-4-4], well, that killed us," he said. "From the All-Star break on, we were probably one of the best teams in the league, and we made that run [9-2-1-1] at the end. But Montreal was playing good, and we couldn't make up the ground.
"It was a bad year all around, but all things considered, as bad as we were, we only missed the playoffs by four points," he said. "That's why we're so optimistic about this year. Anything that could go wrong last year did. Defensively we didn't have a good year, me or the guys in front of me. Giving up as many goals as we did last season [240], you're setting yourself up not to make the playoffs."
Statistically, the Caps ranked 25th defensively in the 30-team league. They were 24th on the penalty kill, an area in which the club had excelled for a decade. Kolzig suffered through his worst season since he became a starter in October 1997 with a goals-against average of 2.79.
There were more reasons for the downfall than the lackluster play at times. Calle Johansson, the team's top all-around defenseman, missed virtually the whole season. Steve Konowalchuk, Jeff Halpern and Ulf Dahlen, three of the top defensive forwards, each missed significant portions of the year. Other players simply struggled.
"No question," Kolzig replied when asked whether the club underachieved. "You look at us going into the regular season, and we're probably one of the top five teams in the league. Going from there to not making the playoffs, we're the biggest underachievers in the league. I think everybody in the room knows that. Hopefully, we can atone for what happened last year."
At 32, Kolzig potentially has several years in front of him as a starter. He is just 18 wins short of 200 for his career and only three shutouts shy of 30 in the NHL. He owns virtually every Caps goaltending record.
The sole benefit to missing the postseason is a longer period of time for injuries to heal. Kolzig said he is 100 percent.
"I feel great. I'm excited about the season and optimistic about our team," he said. "I want to be a big contributor as to why we start the season off right this year."
There is a reason for that, too.
"You go home, you talk to your buddies and friends and everyday somebody wants to know what went wrong," he said.

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