Re-energized Kolzig Is Ready to Lead the Charge for Capitals

Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig pokes the puck away from Tampa Bay's Eric Perrin during the Lightning's 3-2 win last night.
Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig pokes the puck away from Tampa Bay's Eric Perrin during the Lightning's 3-2 win last night. (By Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 21, 2006

Olie Kolzig says he is focused on only one thing as he prepares for his 12th full season in a Washington Capitals uniform: getting his teammates to believe they are worthy of the postseason, despite holes in the lineup and a legion of doubters in the media.

"In the dressing room, our goal has to be to make the playoffs this year," Kolzig said last night before the Capitals opened the preseason with a 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Verizon Center. "We need to have that mentality of hating to lose. Our philosophy last year was just work hard every night and see what happens."

Hard work won't be good enough this winter, Kolzig acknowledged. And he appears prepared to back up his words.

The 36-year-old, who signed a two-year, $10.9 million extension in February, reported to training camp weighing 221 pounds, about eight pounds lighter than his playing weight a year ago. He shed the pounds by minding his diet and ramping up the intensity of his off-ice training regimen. He also began his on-ice workouts about a month earlier than usual.

As a result, Kolzig's conditioning is ahead of schedule, which he hopes will help him -- and, by extension, the Capitals -- get off to a strong start.

Washington won four of its final five games last spring and had a record of 10-9-7 after the Olympic break in February. But the deficit accrued during the season's first four months was simply too much to overcome. Kolzig finished 20-28-11 with a 3.53 goals-against average while playing behind a suspect defense.

"From the all-star break on, we were competitive every night," Kolzig said. "That's when we started to develop that hate-to-lose attitude. We have to have that urgency out of the gate this year."

Team captain Chris Clark said: "Olie has proven his commitment to this team, and guys in the dressing room are lining up behind him. The playoffs may have been a long-term projection for us last year. But that's all changed now. The playoffs is what everyone is aiming for."

Kolzig said he wasn't surprised to learn that a number of national publications have predicted more growing pains for the rebuilding Capitals this season, despite the emergence of winger Alex Ovechkin and some moderate upgrades, including puck-rushing defenseman Brian Pothier and skilled wingers Alexander Semin and Richard Zednik.

Although he doesn't agree with his team's detractors, Kolzig said he can understand why so many have picked the Capitals to miss the playoffs for a third consecutive season. Management has been criticized for not acquiring a No. 1 defenseman or another playmaking center, despite being nearly $15 million under the salary cap ceiling of $44 million.

Kolzig just doesn't want the deficiencies to become an excuse.

"We can't worry about what the media writes about us," he said. "There is so much parity in this league that any given team can make a run. A good example is Carolina. They were picked to finish just ahead of us last year. And they won the Cup. We have to have that belief, and play that way every night."

Kolzig also figures to better prepared mentally. His wife and three children have joined him in Washington this season; they stayed behind in Kennewick, Wash., last season because of the uncertainty surrounding his future with the team.

"There were times last year when I left the rink and I didn't really have anything to really take my mind off things," Kolzig said. "So I would just keep thinking about the game. Bad games would fester and sometimes I had trouble sleeping. Now, I get home, play with the kids, take my wife out on a date and forget about the game. It seems to have really helped my frustration level."

Capitals Note: Kolzig looked sharp in turning away 33 Lightning shots in front of an announced crowd of 8,351. Semin scored at 2 minutes 20 seconds of the opening period. It was his first goal since March 30, 2004, against Pittsburgh. Matt Pettinger's power-play goal made it 2-0 midway through the second period. Norman Milley and Vincent Lecavalier scored for Tampa Bay on a five-on-three power play. The game-winner came from defenseman Dan Boyle 2:24 into overtime.

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