- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Commentary

One look at the Washington Capitals’ numbers — 9-19-1-1 record, worst out of 30 teams in the NHL, and 99 goals allowed, second most in the league — seems to bring a logical conclusion: Goalie Olie Kolzig is done, ready for a rocking chair.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Hockey is a team sport, and there should be team rewards and team blame.

It took a total team effort to bring the club to this point, starting with majority owner Ted Leonsis, who decided to trim payroll with the possibility of a lengthy work stoppage looming and sacrificed the veteran core of his defense. The result is a team that doesn’t always have the talent, speed or hockey sense to prevent a goal.

Still, it is easy to make the wrong assumption. The other night against Detroit, Jaromir Jagr scored 13:37 into the first period. While Jagr and his mates on the ice — Robert Lang, Kip Miller, Sergei Gonchar and Steve Eminger — were relishing their early success, Kris Draper came down the ice unchallenged and tied the score 18 seconds later. It looked like another bad goal, but it wasn’t. It was a perfect shot that zipped under Kolzig’s right arm and probably would have been tougher had somebody bothered to challenge Draper.

All too often that is all Kolzig sees coming at him — a breakaway or one Caps defender trying to hold off two or three opponents. The offensive assault is nonstop, night after night because the people charged with preventing it are unwilling or incapable of doing so.

The result? Kolzig ranks 47th in the league in goals-against average among goalies who have played a minimum of 420 minutes this season, uncharted waters for the Caps veteran who won the Vezina Trophy just four seasons ago. Only two goalies rank lower.

Yesterday Kolzig missed practice. The team said he had a “slight” groin strain. That may have been the truth, but Kolzig’s frustration has reached the boiling point. He is not a man who tolerates losing and is especially tough on himself when he is at fault.

This is not to say that Kolzig is playing as well as he has in the past; he is not. He is allowing more soft goals than usual but not as many as his critics claim. He is leaving more playable rebounds than he has in the past, and some end up behind him because there is nobody there to clear the crease of pucks or opponents.

He is frustrated, trying to do more each night to help, wondering when some of his teammates are going to make similar efforts. He probably is wondering when some of the people who wear the same sweater are going to show some pride and play with the same intensity.

“When there are losing situations, the people who are the most competitive take it the hardest,” coach Glen Hanlon said yesterday. “That’s when it grinds on them. When you play in a winning environment … you have fun. When you lose you’re thinking about it 24 hours a day.”

Kolzig is one of the most competitive athletes ever and right now one of the most frustrated, too.

Note — Maxime Ouellet will get the start tonight in Atlanta because, Hanlon said, he doesn’t like goalies pulling back-to-back assignments when it can be avoided (and the Caps are in Florida tomorrow night) and because the rookie has played well enough in the minors to get a shot.


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