- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2002

Steve Konowalchuk has a new haircut, a very short one, but when he has his helmet on it's hard to notice. Otherwise, the left wing does not appear any different from the player Washington Capitals fans knew 128 days ago, just before a shoulder operation.
Konowalchuk is hoping to be back in action Tuesday night against Florida, and from all indications he is ready mentally and physically after having a shoulder surgically repaired Oct.18 after it developed the troublesome habit of dislocating at will. Konowalchuk has played just five games this season.
The return of the team's best defensive forward and nastiest forechecker couldn't come at a better time. Washington is unbeaten in four games (3-0-1) and has just 23 left in the season. It is five points out of the eighth and last playoff spot in the East and eight points out of the Southeast Division lead and its automatic playoff berth. In short, the Caps can't afford to lose very many games if they hope to avoid the humiliation of missing postseason.
Konowalchuk, a co-captain, is part of the fabric that holds the team together. He has very strong work habits, plays in the toughest defensive situations when a slim lead must be protected, and is a 100 percent team player.
And he is one of the key reasons why the Caps are in sorry straits at the moment. Washington lost the left wing Oct.13 for four months. They lost Calle Johansson, their best all-around defenseman, Nov.8 for the season. They lost their prime defensive tool, the Jeff Halpern checking line that included Konowalchuk and Ulf Dahlen, when the left wing was injured.
Add it all up and the Caps have a defensive record this season that is only one team removed from the bottom of the NHL. Halpern also has been lost for the season after knee surgery.
"That dogged determination he's brought to us since he's been in the league that's what we've missed," coach Ron Wilson said of Konowalchuk. "I think he's been ready for a while; he just had to wait for nature to take its course. He's excited, and that's just the type of player you like to add to your lineup. It's something we've been sorely missing since he's been out."
Konowalchuk has been skating for several weeks but only recently started contact work, testing his shoulder.
"Mentally, I'm definitely ready," he said. "Physically, I feel I'm right there, but I still want to get in a few more practices, more physical stuff, 1-on-1 battles along the boards. I'm sick of just watching."
The injury developed over time because of the intense physical nature of Konowalchuk's game. He spares nobody when issuing crunching body checks, but his own frame suffers as well. He said he could feel the shoulder getting weaker two seasons ago, the pain started a year ago and then it also started dislocating with little notice.
"It held up through training camp this fall, then I hurt it in [the third game of the season]," he said, "and it started popping out all the time. I was trying to sleep one night and I reached for the pillow and it popped out and I said, 'That's it.'"
He's not home free, but he is in the final stages of rehab. He will visit the medical staff Monday and if he gets the green light, he plays. If there is even the slightest question, said general manager George McPhee, Konowalchuk will continue to watch rather than take a chance with a partially healed joint.
"I always try to look at the positive side," the player said. "I've got so much going for me in the overall scheme I'll be back playing hockey, my family is healthy, I play in the NHL. There's not much to cry about."
Notes Goalie Olie Kolzig was back at practice yesterday and putting his sprained left knee to a rigorous test. It passed, but Kolzig said there still was some pain.
Kolzig injured the knee during the second period of the Feb.8 game in Nashville while trying to cover both ends of the crease at the same time with no support. Kolzig missed an opportunity to play for Germany in the Winter Olympics, although he did go to offer moral support.
Wilson said he thought Kolzig would be ready to play Tuesday night but, based on yesterday, Kolzig did not go that far. He said he wanted to wait until today to see how he felt after giving the knee a good test. …
Yesterday's version of Wilson's mini-Olympics was a belly slide who could flop down after a good running start and see how far he could glide down the ice. Brendan Witt was first, Todd Rohloff second and Peter Bondra third after winning the preliminary heat.

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