Kolzig Likes Morning Routine

Olie Kolzig, wearing mask, celebrated Wednesday with his Capitals teammates after becoming the 23rd goaltender to reach 300 career wins.
Olie Kolzig, wearing mask, celebrated Wednesday with his Capitals teammates after becoming the 23rd goaltender to reach 300 career wins. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 14, 2008

One day after earning his 300th career victory, Washington Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig was asked to assess the second-half resurgence that helped him reach the milestone.

His answer was unexpected.

"One thing I've done -- the biggest thing -- is that I don't take pregame skates anymore," Kolzig said. "I just feel like I have more energy."

Kolzig, 37, started skipping the morning skate -- a light practice in full pads that typically lasts about 30 minutes on game days -- in Toronto on Jan. 23. Although the Capitals lost to the Maple Leafs that night, Kolzig is 7-3-2 with a .916 save percentage and a 2.32 goals against average in 12 starts since.

In addition to being more rested at game time, Kolzig said altering his routine has helped him focus during games. Although it's unclear which goaltender will be in the net tonight against Atlanta, given Kolzig's recent run, it wouldn't be surprising for Coach Bruce Boudreau to tap him for the second consecutive game and start Cristobal Huet against Boston on Sunday.

"Sometimes in practice I get pretty involved and I can get pretty irritated," Kolzig said, "and if I had a rough morning skate, it would sometimes carry that over into the game."

The merits of the morning skate have been debated for years, with detractors arguing that it only saps players' energy for that night's game. The New Jersey Devils, in fact, eliminated the practice altogether in mid-November, while the Capitals make the skates optional.

"I think it's had a big effect on Olie's game," General Manager George McPhee said. "There were times earlier in the season when he looked a little tired. You can't do at 30 what you could do at 20, and you can't do at 40 what you did at 30. It takes knowing your body and making the adjustments."

Kolzig still comes to the rink on game-day mornings, even if it's just to stretch, receive treatment or ride a stationary bike.

"As long as you've got your 10-15 minute warmup before the game, that's all you need," he said.

On Wednesday, Kolzig made 24 saves against Calgary to become the 23rd goaltender to reach 300 victories. He's also one of five to win his first 300 games with the same team (Martin Brodeur, Mike Richter, Jacques Plante and Turk Broda are the others). But more important, Kolzig said, his performance helped the Capitals move within five points of the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference with 11 games remaining.

"It's a significant milestone, no question about it," Kolzig said. "But believe me, I'm not sitting here patting myself on the back, telling myself how good I am. I'm not a big self-promoter. I just want to go out and try to get us to the playoffs."

Cap ital s Notes: Quintin Laing has been selected as the Capitals' nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, the annual award given by the Professional Hockey Writers Association to "the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey."

Laing, 28, toiled in the minor leagues for seven seasons before the Capitals recalled the checking-line wing from the American Hockey League as an injury replacement in late November. He's been throwing his body in front of slap shots for Washington ever since.

"I know my limits and I know my abilities and I know why I'm on the ice," Laing said. "My role here is to be selfless out there and give up my body to prevent scoring chances. It's like living a dream, every day."

Laing has been credited with 49 blocked shots in 37 games, good for second among Capitals forwards behind Brooks Laich (51 in 71 games) and tied for 18th in the league among forwards.

"That's a fabulous reward for him," Boudreau said. "If anybody on this team deserves something for perseverance, I would have to say it's Quintin Laing." . . .

Defenseman John Erskine did not practice yesterday after suffering an undisclosed injury during a fight with Calgary's Eric Godard. Erskine played only 5 minutes 12 seconds against the Flames. The team has six healthy defensemen but is believed to be considering recalling Sami Lepisto from Hershey. . . . Right wing Chris Clark said he hopes to return to the lineup as soon as next week. He's played only once since Nov. 28 because of a groin tendon injury.

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