Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig knows what the skeptics say:
Washington's appearance in the '98 Stanley Cup finals was a
once-in-a-lifetime event...and the Caps' run wouldn't have
happened if New Jersey, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh hadn't each
been upset...and there's no guarantee that Kolzig, a career
second-stringer before '97-98, can play the way he did last
spring, when he outdueled Buffalo's Dominik Hasek in the
conference finals, matched an NHL record with four playoff
shutouts and finished the postseason with a 1.95 goals-against
After all, this is the franchise that saw Jim Carey win the
Vezina Trophy in 1996, only to stumble badly the next season,
provoking the Capitals to give up on him. Even in their hometown
the Caps spent most of the '90s living down the "choking dogs"
label a couple of local columnists hung on them because of a
history of spectacular playoff collapses. The goal, then, is to
prove that Washington's advance to the Cup finals and its loss to
the Red Wings (the Caps were swept, but three of the four games
were decided by a goal) was a breakthrough, not a fluke.
"We consider ourselves among the elite," says Kolzig, whose 33
wins in '97-98 tied him for third-best among goalies. "The
expectations are obviously a lot higher than they were at this
time last year."
The team's strengths, in addition to Kolzig, are sniper Peter
Bondra (52 goals) and the defense, anchored by Mark Tinordi,
Calle Johansson, Joe Reekie and Brendan Witt. But the team's
only major off-season addition was defenseman Dimitri Mironov,
and the roster is stocked with over-30 players--Adam Oates,
Brian Bellows and Dale Hunter, to name three--who the Caps must
hope will continue to play well enough to be called
"experienced" as opposed to "old." For Washington to
significantly improve, one or both of its young wingers, Yogi
Svejkovsky or Richard Zednik, has to excel. Coach Ron Wilson is
optimistic. "We know what we did last year," he says, "and we
know we can get back."
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Bondra (12) tied for the NHL lead in goals, with 52. [Peter Bondra and defender in game]
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOHN TAMANIO [Drawing of golden hockey puck]
The Capitals were successful on 89.2% of their penalty kills, the
NHL's best percentage since the league began keeping that stat in
KEYS TO SUCCESS
--Somebody other than 50-goal man Peter Bondra must score on a
regular basis. The best bet would be wing Richard Zednik,
who shone in the postseason.
--The older players the Capitals rely on--Adam Oates and Dale
Hunter, specifically--need to remain healthy.