Say It Ain't So, Olie

Wednesday, January 16, 2008; Page E01

Olie Kolzig shuffled from the ice to the locker room in Arlington yesterday, removed his skates and shook his head. He appeared tired, frustrated.

Bruce Boudreau, the team's neophyte NHL coach, informed the 37-year-old goaltender on Monday he would not start against Eastern Conference leader Ottawa last night at Verizon Center, even though Kolzig is 3-0 against the Senators this season.

The benching followed being pulled in the 6-4 loss to the Flyers on Sunday after allowing four goals. It's enough to make the pre-Ovechkin face of the franchise wonder how much longer he will play and where he will finish his career.

"I've talked to my wife about retirement," Kolzig said after the Caps' morning skate. "Things just haven't gone as well for me as I've thought the past two years. I'll wait and see how things play out."

The possibility of Olie the Goalie hanging it up, maybe playing for a team other than the franchise that drafted him in 1989, should be disturbing for even the most peripheral fan.

Just as Washington attempts to turn an abysmal 6-14-1 start into an improbable playoff berth, behind Ovechkin, their newly minted $100 million man, and Boudreau, the meat-and-potatoes, minor-league lifer who finally got his shot, Kolzig leaves? Just as the Caps rejoin the NHL conversation, the guy who held the fort for 12 years might not be here beyond this season?

Kolzig, the player who tended goal full time for the Capitals since 1996 -- the Canadian-reared guy who's been in the orguhn-eye-zation for 19 years and is an unrestricted free agent this summer -- getting cheated out of one more run into June?

Business is business, but that decision would just leave a bad taste throughout the franchise.

With all the incarnations of this team since they went to the Stanley Cup finals in 1998, Kolzig has remained the one constant.

He watched as a new owner, Ted Leonsis, played the big-name game with Jaromir Jagr. He saw Leonsis go the way of new-age, NHL frugality by dumping everybody and building through youth. Then came the drafting of the next NHL superstar and then, 2 1/2 years later, signing Alex Ovechkin to hockey's first $100 million contract. Olie was there, long before Ovie.

"We have the team to do it, to get back there one day," Kolzig said. "We're playing really well. It's unfortunate we dug ourselves such a big hole early on, but I think if we can get ourselves in the playoffs we're a team that can do some damage."

Kolzig, coming off a sprained right knee last season, has a goals against average of 3.04 this season. His save percentage is .888, far off his career-best years. He is asked if he feels like he's slowing down.

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