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.

--T.C.

COLOR PHOTO: JASON COHN/ARCHIVE PHOTOS As opponents know, Gonchar can be offensive in several ways.

Fast Fact
Last year Olaf Kolzig became the second goalie not named Dominik
Hasek to win the Vezina Trophy since 1994. The other? The
Capitals' Jim Carey in '96.

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

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)