Washington Capitals' goaltender Olaf Kolzig injured his right knee at practice on Monday, and is expected to be out for three weeks. The injury occurred when Olie kicked his left leg out to stop a routine shot while practicing at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex yesterday. Whether or not the injury will require surgery is not yet known, as the medical staff need to let the swelling go down before a full assessment can be made. Coach Glen Hanlon said, "It's stating the obvious, but this is a huge blow."
Not only is Kolzig both solid and dependable in the net, but he's a team leader and as much of an asset to the team in the dressing room as he is on the ice. An upbeat practice was instantly hushed when the 36-year old goalie went down. Captain Chris Clark said, "He's the backbone of our team, and to see something go wrong with him, serious or not, is pretty frightening for our team."
With their net minder sidelined for at least the rest of this month, the Caps will be relying on backup Brent Johnson to step up into the starter spot and there's little time for adjustments as they are still on the outside of the playoff race looking in. Washington extended Johnson's contract in mid-January, knowing that he was both a good backup, and successor to Kolzig. Little did they know that Johnson's first shot at extended play would come so quickly.
General manager George McPhee stated that, "Brent Johnson has done his job well and is looking forward to starting on a consistent basis." Johnson has to be excited at the prospect of playing more than once every few weeks. Though he has been inconsistent in his 15 games this season, it's difficult for some goaltenders to come in and play so sporadically. Some goaltenders need more than one game to develop their rhythm and settle in to their comfort zone.
Johnson won 34 games in 58 appearances in the 2001-2002 season for the St. Louis Blues (34-20-4). His goals against average and save percentages at 2.14 and .902, were considerably more impressive than the 3.86 and .885 that he has managed this season. Coach Hanlon knows that his backup will be ready; "Because Olie is so solid, Johnny's never had the opportunity to go an extended period of time. But now he's the guy. I'm sure for him it's a couple of long years waiting to get back to the way it was in St. Louis."
The Capitals are counting on it as they enter the backstretch of the season. With only 25 games remaining in the season, Washington is presently nine points back of the Carolina Hurricanes who hold the eighth and final conference playoff spot. Unfortunately, there are also four teams ahead of Washington fighting for that last spot. Toronto, both New York teams, and Boston, all have more points than the Caps but less than the 'Canes. Washington needs to go on a tear to have any chance of making the playoffs, so there's really no time for any type of adjustment period for Johnson.
He'll get his first opportunity on the road on Thursday night against their division rivals, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Going into Florida to face both the league's number one and number four scorers is a tough first assignment. Vincent Lecavalier (35 goals) and Martin St. Louis (32) will surely test the 29-year old goaltender early and often.
Washington's best defense would undoubtedly be a whole lot of offense. Alex Ovechkin sits just one goal back of Lecavalier in league scoring with 34 goals, and leap-frogging him would undoubtedly make Johnson's job easier. Alexander Semin isn't far back at 29 goals (12th), so a big night from him would also increase the Caps' chances. Washington can play with virtually anyone when they are firing on all cylinders, and they'll need that kind of effort on Thursday night to knock off Tampa.
Brashear Will Be Back Next Year
Caps tough guy Donald Brashear will be in Washington again in 2007/2008, after signing a one-year deal worth $1.1 Million. The rugged left winger is a leader on and off the ice, and his ability to take a regular shift is what makes him one of the best at his craft. Though he only has seven points (2 goals, 5 assists), his 11 fighting majors are good for fourth in the NHL, as are his 125 penalty minutes.
Cassivi To Get Call?
The Caps are expected to call up Frederic Cassivi from the Hershey Bears to take Johnson's place on the bench as the backup. Cassivi is 15-7-4 in the American Hockey League this season and boasts a stellar save percentage of .916.