In past seasons, during practice following a dismal defeat, Washington Capitals goaltender Olie Kolzig might bark at a defenseman for a mental lapse, smack his stick on the ice after yielding a soft goal or hang his head as he lamented the previous day's loss.
Not yesterday. Kolzig was relaxed, serene even, at Piney Orchard Ice Arena, where he playfully flipped pucks at teammates and mocked them for missing the net. Afterward, the goalie insisted he hasn't mellowed. He's just taken a philosophical approach to this season, knowing it will be his most challenging yet.
"I'm the same guy, I'm just holding it in a little better," Kolzig said. "Going into the season, the key word for me was patience. There are going to be nights like Saturday night and Friday night. You have to grade yourself after every game. You have to realize there are going to be growing pains."
Kolzig and the rebuilding Capitals (1-2-0) were defeated, 7-3 and 8-1, by the Atlanta Thrashers over the weekend.
The 35-year-old has the unenviable task of playing behind one of the league's least experienced defensive corps. In three games, he has often been the Capitals' first and last line of defense, facing 37, 39 and 42 shots, respectively. As a result, Kolzig has a 5.03 goals against average and 0.871 save percentage -- atypical numbers for the 2000 Vezina Trophy winner. Kolzig's play has been solid, despite his unsightly statistics.
One thing, however, has him irritated: the NHL's new rules, which are aimed at increasing scoring and luring fans back to the rinks after a labor dispute canceled last season.
Kolzig, like all goalies, must wear smaller pads. He can't play the puck in the corners anymore. And opposing players have gotten away with crashing the crease, sometimes running him over in the process, whacking him with their sticks and, in general, showing a lack of respect.
Late in Saturday's defeat, Kolzig had seen enough. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound goalie shoved Thrashers left wing Brad Larsen into the goal post after Larsen bumped him. Kolzig was assessed a minor penalty for roughing.
"I was frustrated at that point," Kolzig said. "It was 5-1 or something. Five, six years ago, you couldn't put a skate lace in the crease. Now it's no holds barred. [Peter] Bondra was on top of me, Larsen ran into me, [Marc] Savard ran into me."
Kolzig stopped short of saying the league has singled out goalies, but said he wants referees to crackdown on goalie interference with the same vigor as abolishing the game of obstruction.
"I just wish they'd watch out for goaltenders a little more," he said. "It's tough enough trying to stop the puck without having guys falling on you and saying it was accidental.
"With the [defensive] systems teams played up until this year, goal scoring was down and save percentage was up. They want to get it back to old style hockey, the 7-6 and 6-5 games. By taking some of the goalies' advantages away they've achieved that. The easiest way to increase goal scoring is to target the goaltender."
It's been a frustrating opening week for the Capitals and especially for Kolzig, who has had to absorb an inordinate number of shots, endure two blowout losses and adjust to the new regulations.
But he seems to be taking things in stride.
"As a group, we can't accept losing, even though we are a young team and there are a lot of people picking against us," Kolzig said. "But the last thing you want to do is breed a losing mentality. You have to be accountable and do everything to put ourselves in a position to win. Most nights it might not happen. But as long as we are not out-worked and out-hustled, that's really all you can ask from this group."
NHL Notes: When the NHL players collect their first paychecks this season, the amount will be cut by 12 percent and put into escrow. The new salary cap-based economic system limits player salaries to 54 percent of leaguewide revenues. The escrow fund was created to ensure that owners get their share in case player costs exceed that percentage. The 12 percent figure is based on estimated revenues of $1.8 billion; if league revenues surpass $2.05 billion, players will receive money back.