The moment Anaheim defenseman Pavel Trnka's shot from the blue line slipped through Olaf Kolzig's pads last week, the Washington Capitals' goalie knew it was time to change his equipment. Another shot had slipped through a tiny crevice in his pads when he dropped down to his knees and kicked out his legs in the butterfly position.
For three days following that 7-1 loss to Anaheim--a game in which Kolzig was pulled after two periods--he worked in new pads, which cover an inch more space between his legs when he drops down. On Saturday night, Kolzig put them to use for the first time in a game and almost single-handedly kept the Capitals in their 2-2 tie with the Phoenix Coyotes. Kolzig will be wearing the new pads again when the Capitals face the Los Angeles Kings in the second game of their four-game road trip Tuesday night at the new Staples Center.
"There were a few saves I made that I might not have made with the pads I had before," Kolzig said. "There aren't quite as many holes now when I go down. If you're a goalie you have to have a great case of amnesia. If you dwell on the game before it can affect your play. You're going to have two or three games like [the Anaheim game] a year and know that going in.
"And this was disappointing [Saturday night]. I really thought we should have won this hockey game. That was their second game in two nights and we had a 2-0 lead going into the third period. We have to learn to protect that lead, especially on the road facing a tired hockey team. But it's a [standings] point nonetheless."
The Capitals (2-3-2) gave their goalie little help against the Coyotes. The defensive breakdowns began three minutes into the game, when Shane Doan got the puck in front of the net with plenty of time to shoot. Somehow, Kolzig got a piece of the shot.
Less than two minutes later Peter Bondra swiped the puck from Phoenix goalie Mikhail Shtalenkov and scored short-handed--the first time the Capitals had opened the scoring this season--and Chris Simon made it 2-0 with a wrist shot 33 seconds into the second period. The Capitals held a two-goal lead for the first time this season against a team off to its best start in franchise history.
But Kolzig faced several two-on-one breaks as the period wore on, and the Capitals self-destructed in the third period, allowing Jeremy Roenick to convert two odd-man rushes. He scored once short-handed about three minutes into the period, off defenseman Sergei Gonchar's poor breakout pass, and again on the power play about seven minutes later, on a pass that bounced in off Washington defenseman Calle Johansson.
"That's something we're going to have to address on Monday," Kolzig said. "We gave away too many odd-man rushes against. We're getting burned with it."
Kolzig's work kept the Capitals alive. He made a pad save on Doan's breakaway with seven minutes remaining. He made successive game-saving stops on Rick Tocchet while sprawled on his side with about three minutes left. He robbed Juha Ylonen and Trevor Letowski on consecutive two-on-one breaks.
"We had a couple of casual moments by people that we can't afford--especially from our defense," Coach Ron Wilson said. "And Olie was unbelievable. He was self-critical about what happened against Anaheim and he came up huge for us. He got the point for us. Unfortunately, it should have been good enough for the win."
That's becoming a familiar refrain in the early part of this season. The Capitals played spotty defense in the preseason and have yet to tighten up. Kolzig's numbers have suffered--a 2-3-2 record and a goals-against average above 3.00.
"Let's not kid ourselves--this is the NHL," defenseman Ken Klee said. "If your goalie doesn't play well, you're not going to win. He's made some huge saves for us."
Capitals Notes: The Capitals' penalty killing is slowly improving after dropping to worst in the NHL. Washington has killed off 6 of 7 chances over the last two games. . . . Defenseman Brendan Witt (knee) will practice Monday and might be able to play Tuesday against the Kings. However, Jamie Huscroft, up from the minors, is one of the few defensemen playing well and Wilson said he might leave him in the lineup. . . .
The Capitals dominated the overtime period Saturday, attempting seven shots on goal in five minutes.