During training camp, Glen Hanlon said one of his worst fears was an injury to starting goaltender Olie Kolzig.
It's now clear why the Washington Capitals' coach was so worried.
Hanlon's team has not won in regulation without Kolzig, who aggravated a nagging hamstring strain Nov. 8 in Toronto. He left that game in the third period and has not played in the four contests since. The veteran did, however, practice at full speed Friday and afterward said he wants to play Saturday night in Montreal.
Although Kolzig has recovered "100 percent," according to Hanlon, the coach kept him on the bench as a precaution Thursday against the Sabres at HSBC Arena. Backup Brent Johnson started in Kolzig's place and, at times, struggled in the 8-5 loss. Kolzig has been in net for six of the Capitals' seven victories and owns a respectable 3.43 goals against average.
"The one thing it does is bring to light how much we undervalue and underappreciate Olie," Hanlon said. "We in Washington take it for granted that Olie is likely to be the best player on the ice every single night. And no matter how much we talk about it and appreciate it, you never really appreciate it fully."
Johnson's third consecutive start against the Sabres came two days after his best performance as a Capital. The starter-turned-backup earned his first victory, making 32 saves and stuffing all three Lightning penalty shots in the shootout.
But Johnson regressed in Buffalo, where he didn't get much help from the Capitals' young defensive corps and promptly surrendered a goal on the first of 27 shots he faced, just 37 seconds into the contest. The weak wrister by Brian Campbell sneaked between Johnson's pads as he shuffled-stepped in the crease, and at least two other goals were of similarly questionable quality.
"The first one was a goal I should have had," said Johnson, who was claimed off waivers during training camp. "I don't even know how it went in. And after that it seemed like they were coming at us at all angles. We got down 6-1, but we never stopped playing hard and made it 6-4. . . . No one likes to lose in that fashion, especially when the guys play so hard in front of you.
"I felt like there were a couple of things in the second period that were very good. But there were times when I got out of control. Sometimes in the game, I feel like a live wire, like I'm trying to do too much."
After the game, Johnson sat in his locker room stall, still wearing his pads, his head in his hands, for about 15 minutes. He fell to 1-4-0, while his goals against average swelled to 5.34 and his save percentage slipped to 0.851.
The biggest indictment of Johnson's streaky play came last week, when the Capitals borrowed journeyman Frederic Cassivi from the Hershey (Pa.) Bears of the American Hockey League and started him the following day against New Jersey, his first in the NHL in more than two years. The Capitals lost that game, 4-3.
Hanlon, a former NHL goalie, knows what Johnson is going through and continued to back him Friday.
"It's going to take Brent 10, 11, 12 games," Hanlon said. "You just hope it doesn't take three or four months to get those games in. He gave us two good starts. Brent is a good goalie. And he'll give us some more good starts."
As for Kolzig, he's eager to face the Canadiens.
"It stiffened up on me last night when I was sitting on the bench, but it felt pretty good today once I got warmed up," Kolzig said. "It's an awesome atmosphere in Montreal, a lot of tradition in that building. It's just a fun pace to play. Ultimately it's the coach's decision. It's up to him. But I feel I'm ready."