- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2003

BUFFALO — Bruce Cassidy figured Monday was a night to play a hunch.

The Washington Capitals’ coach had started goalie Olie Kolzig in 16 straight games and won four. So Cassidy went with his gut, even though that meant giving rookie Rastislav Stana his first NHL start against the high-scoring Detroit Red Wings.

“You’re going to get second-guessed if it doesn’t work out, but Ratty is very athletic and has been known to make big saves,” Cassidy said. “… Olie has taken the losses hard. His body language told me he was down and needed to take a step away to get back to enjoying the game.”

Staked to a quick 3-0 lead, Stana made Cassidy look brilliant, stopping 38 shots in a 4-1 victory over a lineup of All-Stars like Brett Hull, Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios and Brendan Shanahan. Stana played so well he might get the call again tonight when the Caps visit the Sabres in Buffalo.

“Ratty never seem rattled,” Cassidy said. “He was always pretty square to the puck. He gave up some rebounds, but all young goalies do. And when we put up a few [goals] early, he could relax, figuring if he let one in it wasn’t the end of the world. We may stick with the hot hand tomorrow. If you’re going to give your goalie a rest, give him a good rest.”

Stana already has played more for the Caps this year than he figured during training camp. He was fourth on the depth chart behind the well-established Kolzig, 2002-03 backup Sebastien Charpentier and Maxime Ouellet, a more highly touted prospect.

However when Charpentier’s arthritic condition flared up Nov.4, Stana got the call because he was shining for Portland of the American Hockey League (3-2, 1.84 goals-against average, .931 save percentage). His first appearance for the Caps came Nov.14, when he stopped all seven Tampa Bay shots he faced in relief of Kolzig.

“I didn’t expect my first game was going to come this season, but I did everything I could in camp to show what I could do, and I was playing my best in Portland,” said the 23-year-old Slovakian, Washington’s second seventh-round pick in the 1998 draft. “It was a little easier last night because it wasn’t my first game.”

Kolzig had special praise for Stana’s patience and composure, remembering a 4-1 loss in his first start back in 1989 in Hartford. And the 2000 Vezina Trophy winner credited goalie coach Dave Prior for helping refine the 6-foot-2, 184-pound Stana into a more disciplined netminder who doesn’t just rely on his athletic ability.

Now, Cassidy and Co. — 3-7-1 with Charpentier in the net during the past year — can be more confident if anything happens to longtime mainstay Kolzig.

“There are always turning points in your season if you’re going to get things turned around,” said Cassidy, noting that his last-place team is a respectable 4-5-0-1 in its past 10 games. “Maybe that was ours.”

Notes — Left wing Bates Battaglia, who sat out the Detroit game with a bruised foot, didn’t skate yesterday and likely won’t play tonight. Left wing Matt Pettinger, who has missed the last 11 games with a concussion, might return. If so, either Brian Willsie or Alexander Semin will be scratched.

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