The Capitals are 6-4-3 early in their campaign to defend the Stanley Cup and host the rival Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night at Capital One Arena. Eddie Olczyk will be in town to call the game on NBC Sports Network and ahead of the showdown he talked to The Washington Post about the mixed early returns on the Capitals, whether Tom Wilson’s suspension may have been too harsh and why he’s always telling players to keep their sticks on the ice.
The Post: Let’s start with the Caps, who are off to a somewhat sluggish start. Is the Stanley Cup hangover real?
Eddie Olczyk: I think they’re going to be smiling when we come into the building because I think they’re a perfect two for two on Wednesday night. They’ll be happy to see us. . . . One of the reasons they separated themselves from everyone else last season was their depth and the scoring they got from their bottom six guys. With injuries or suspensions, it’s been a lot tougher for them. . . . At the end of the day, there is something to [the Cup hangover]. I can just speak from experience [winning] in New York in 1994. We made a bunch of changes. . . . But in the end, I think they’ll be fine, and if they get back into the playoffs, that’s all they want regardless of where they finish.
The Post: You mentioned injuries and suspension, which leads us to Tom Wilson. What do you make of his suspension?
Olczyk: He’s an integral part of their team. He’s a guy that’s got good skill level, a guy that can skate, a guy that can kill penalties, a guy that can play with world-class players and a guy that crosses the line every once in a while. He can drop the gloves; we know that. Intimidation will always be a part of the game. You know when he’s on the ice, and he has the ability to run you into the sixth or seventh row. Does he cross the line at times? Yes, absolutely. On the suspension, I thought it was a little heavy, the number. Certainly into the double-digits [made sense], there’s no way around that, but that’s the way it is. . . . Would 30 other teams in the league want him? Yeah, I think they would have both hands up.
One other thing I will say, and it wasn’t talked about a lot, is the prior game [when Wilson’s hit earned him a suspension] Robert Bortuzzo elbowed Michal Kempny. Bortuzzo got suspended a couple of games. So I think when you look at how that game went in St. Louis and Bortuzzo running around — I think he drilled someone from behind in that game, too. Wilson did not play in that game. You look at that and say, if you’re taking liberties on some of our players, you know. . . . I thought [the number of games] was a little high, but I wouldn’t argue that it should have been 12 or 15 games.
The Post: Some Capitals fans have felt over the years that your colleague Mike Milbury has been a bit of an Alex Ovechkin critic. Does winning a Cup change the way people feel about him around the league?
Olczyk: Regardless of if it’s Mike or anyone else, the Caps had underachieved for a long time. Once you win, you have the bragging rights against anyone who wants to be a critic. So yeah, that’s out the window for [Ovechkin]. But what I was most impressed about during the playoffs with him was his ability to be much more selective in his physical play. Saving energy instead of hit everything and forecheck everywhere. He stepped up on the biggest stage with the most pressure and I couldn’t be happier for him.
The Post: Is Milbury going to be nicer to him now?
Olczyk: [laughs] You’d have to talk to Mike on that.
The Post: Anybody that watches you has heard you talk on the air about how important it is for players to keep their sticks on the ice. Is there a story behind the advice or a coach who instilled it in you?
Olczyk: The backstory is as a player I just tried to always have a good stick — offensively or defensively. Then when I was coaching in Pittsburgh it was something that I thought was very important. Coaches emphasize this all the time. . . . Sometimes players have brain cramps, they think they’re with a guy and all of a sudden the puck is in the back of the net. . . . You never know when the puck’s going to hit you. Coaches preached it to me. I tried to live it as a player. . . . It’s like a guy covering a wide receiver but his hands are around his waist. You got to get those hands up. It’s the opposite in hockey, but it’s the same kind of teaching point. Teams spend $285 on those sticks; you better get your money’s worth. Get your stick on the ice!
The Post: Give us a health update. How are you feeling? (Olczyk is cancer-free after battling Stage 3 colon cancer.)
Olczyk: Feel healthy, feel like I’m back to normal. Feel lucky that I’m back on my feet, doing what I love to do. Just got back from the Breeders' Cup, so back in my hockey and horse racing mode. Everything is looking up.
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