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7 WASHINGTON Capitals
Tim Crothers
October 16, 2000
After winning the Vezina Trophy last June, goaltender Olaf Kolzig asked the Hockey Hall of Fame if he could bring the hardware home so he could bask in its aura. He had earned the award with a masterful 1999-2000 season in which he was third in the NHL in wins (41); Kolzig studied the other names inscribed on the trophy, determined to someday be discussed in the same breath with the NHL's greatest netminders. To remind himself that he has a ways to go before achieving that stature, he need only recall his 31 losses in a dismal '98-99 season that occurred on the heels of Washington's loss in the '97 Stanley Cup finals. Kolzig is concerned enough about a similar falloff this season that he declined to comment for this report because he believed "bad things" could happen if he talked to SI. (A few days after the interview request Kolzig had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and will miss the first two weeks of the season.)
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October 16, 2000

7 Washington Capitals

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Insider

CATEGORY

SI RANKING

SKINNY

FORWARDS

16

Must trade Bondra or get him back on track

DEFENSE

7

Deep unit; addition of Cote enhances mobility

GOALTENDING

5

Kolzig can handle heavy workload

SPECIAL TEAMS

10

Zednik, Murphy must be more consistent on PP

MANAGEMENT

11

G.M. McPhee doesn't take many chances

After winning the Vezina Trophy last June, goaltender Olaf Kolzig asked the Hockey Hall of Fame if he could bring the hardware home so he could bask in its aura. He had earned the award with a masterful 1999-2000 season in which he was third in the NHL in wins (41); Kolzig studied the other names inscribed on the trophy, determined to someday be discussed in the same breath with the NHL's greatest netminders. To remind himself that he has a ways to go before achieving that stature, he need only recall his 31 losses in a dismal '98-99 season that occurred on the heels of Washington's loss in the '97 Stanley Cup finals. Kolzig is concerned enough about a similar falloff this season that he declined to comment for this report because he believed "bad things" could happen if he talked to SI. (A few days after the interview request Kolzig had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and will miss the first two weeks of the season.)

Coach Ron Wilson is certain that Kolzig's struggles aren't directly connected to national publicity. "In '98 we had so many injuries that Olie tried to be perfect, and when he wasn't he took all the blame," Wilson says. "He needs to understand that he's like a great American League pitcher. He doesn't bat, so he can't win the game, but he allows us to win with less offense than most."

After a miserable start last season, Wilson installed the "center lock," a new scheme that pushed the opponent's attack toward the boards and created more counterpunching opportunities for the Caps. After Jan. 1, Washington rallied to a league-best 31-10-6-1 record and won the Southeast Division. However, 21 of those victories were by one or two goals, and the offense stalled in a first-round playoff loss to the Penguins in which the Caps scored eight goals in five games.

Washington's leading scorer, 38-year-old center Adam Oates, is hoping for increased firepower from emerging snipers such as Richard Zednick (19 goals) and Jeff Halpern (18), and from offensive defenseman Sergei Gonchar (18). "We'd love to have a 50-goal scorer, but we don't, so we'll have to keep playing stingy defense," Oates says.

Washington is still the class of its division, but Kolzig had better return healthy and in Vezina form, or the Capitals' fate can be described in two words: bad things.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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