As Kolzig's Numbers Slip, Coach Is Counting on Him

Olie Kolzig has allowed 3.46 goals per game since Nov. 30.
Olie Kolzig has allowed 3.46 goals per game since Nov. 30. "Numbers don't always tell the true story," Kolzig said. (By Rich Schultz -- Associated Press)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 22, 2007

Bruce Boudreau is the first to admit he doesn't know much about goaltenders. But the Washington Capitals' interim coach knows enough about the position to say that Olie Kolzig is capable of playing better than he has the past two weeks.

"He's probably not where he wants to be," Boudreau said after yesterday's practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. "Olie is a tremendous competitor. He knows what it's like to be at the top of the heap because he's won the Vezina, he's been to the finals. But he would be the first one to tell you that some of the [recent] goals, when he's on top of his game, he's going to get those."

Boudreau's comments came one day after Kolzig surrendered five goals on 21 shots to the Montreal Canadiens -- three on the first eight shots -- in a 5-2 loss at Verizon Center. The first goal was scored on the power play, the second on blown coverage deep in the Capitals' zone. But the third, Guillaume Latendresse's second goal of the night, beat Kolzig from the slot on the blocker side -- a good shot, but also one Kolzig said he would like to have another chance at.

"Over the last two weeks, going back to the Devils game in Jersey, I've probably given up a goal [each game] that I could be better on, that I can stop," said Kolzig, 37. "But in saying that, I still feel like I'm coming up with some big saves."

He has, indeed, come up with some big saves. But there have been some uncharacteristic lapses, too .

Kolzig's stretch of uneven play, as he pointed out, seems to have started with Vitaly Vishnevski's backhander from 20 feet in the Capitals' 3-2 loss at New Jersey on Dec. 7. Four games later, Kolzig misplayed a puck against Buffalo, and Derek Roy promptly put it into the net. Then, against Detroit on Monday, Kolzig helped the Capitals push the NHL-leading Red Wings to a shootout. But he shouldered the blame after being beaten on three consecutive penalty shots, saying he "didn't get it done for the boys."

Since Nov. 30, Kolzig is 3-4-1 with a 3.46 goals against average and a .854 save percentage. Those aren't the type of numbers the Capitals are used to getting from their franchise goalie, who entered the season with a career goals against average of 2.69 and a save percentage of .908.

Kolzig said he's aware of his slipping statistics. But he also said he doesn't gauge his performance solely by numbers, particularly since Boudreau was named interim coach Nov. 22. Boudreau's system, Kolzig said, is effective when executed properly. But when it's not, goaltender beware.

"Numbers don't always tell the true story," Kolzig said. "We're playing a system now where you don't get a lot of comfort shots, a lot of perimeter shots. You've got to be ready. We're not allowing teams to come right through, but when they do, it's on a breakdown or a power-play shot.

"We're more aggressive in the defensive zone; we're pressuring. But if one guy isn't doing his job, that leaves another guy wide open. That's what I'm facing. I've come to grips with that. My philosophy is to make the key save at the right time."

He didn't do that in the second period against the Canadiens, who took a 3-1 lead on Latendresse's second goal and rolled to victory despite being outshot 37-21. The loss was Washington's third in four games and dropped Boudreau's record to 7-5-2.

Though Boudreau said he hasn't decided who will start in goal tonight against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum, the coach said he has no plans to reduce Kolzig's workload. Kolzig has started 12 of the 14 games in which Boudreau has been behind the bench.

"We're going to keep throwing him in net," Boudreau said, "and hope that he gets the confidence and momentum that he needs to be back on top of his game."

Capitals Notes: Right wing Chris Clark (strained groin muscle), center Boyd Gordon (broken right hand) and defenseman Brian Pothier (broken thumb) won't play tonight.

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