When backup goalie Craig Billington was traded to the Washington Capitals last summer, he knew his workload would be minimal behind starter Olaf Kolzig. And with the team and Kolzig playing their best hockey of the season the past three weeks, Billington's opportunities to play are even fewer.
Coach Ron Wilson originally planned to play Billington in Florida or Toronto last week, but the Capitals brought a seven-game unbeaten streak into last night's contest against Tampa Bay, and Wilson isn't changing his lineup. As the coach puts it, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Kolzig made his 14th straight start against the Lightning--he's 8-1-3 since Christmas.
"That's something I have to figure out, when to play [Billington]," Wilson said. "But I've got a goaltender as fit as any goalie in the league, and we don't play 24 hours a day and we don't play every day--it's every other day for the next 10 days--and if Olie feels up to it, I don't see any reason why I should butt my nose in on the streak we have going to get somebody else a game.
"Look at a team like New Jersey that uses a backup against us and loses, and they haven't lost a game in like 14 games except that one. And that's a different team altogether from us, we're not the New Jersey Devils, our margin for error is very slim, and right now I don't feel comfortable putting Billington into a situation where we're on a streak and make him feel responsible for losing the streak. That's like throwing cold water on Olie, and I don't want to do that."
Kolzig, who has appeared in 41 of 48 games thus far, loves the work and is eager to play as much as possible. At this point last season, he was in the middle of a stretch in which he appeared in 34 of 35 games. Billington has made two starts since Nov. 29. Many goalies struggle with such long gaps between starts, but Billington is accustomed to it, spending the last few years in Colorado behind future Hall of Famer Patrick Roy. He has played well given the opportunity and posted back-to-back shutouts in November. But, with the Capitals in a fight for the playoffs that will likely go down to the final days of the season, Kolzig will be the workhorse.
Strengthening the Lineup for the Flyers Wilson said it's likely Jim McKenzie, claimed off waivers from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim last week, will make his Capitals debut Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers, one of the most physical teams in the NHL, which is now even bigger with the acquisition of 6-foot-4 center Keith Primeau Sunday. . . . Former Capitals Yogi Svejkovsky, traded to Tampa Bay last Monday, faced his former teammates for the first time last night. . . . Forwards Jeff Toms and Mike Eagles were healthy scratches.