In the game of hockey, there is one player that sits on the last line of defense, patiently waiting to do his job: make big saves and keep the puck out of the net. For the Washington Capitals, they have been fortunate to have an excellent line of goalies throughout their tenure in the NHL.
The South African-born netminder was a first-round pick, going to the Capitals 19th overall. They were ready to start selecting their starting goaltenders for the future, thereby creating a legacy of an unstoppable tandem between the pipes.
Competing with Jim Carey for his shot in the NHL, Kolzig fought hard as the backup netminder and stole the spotlight when he stumbled in the playoffs. Thanks to his hard work and impressive postseason numbers, which included a 1.94 GAA in five playoff games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Kolzig became the team’s starting netminder.
Rise to the Top
In 1997-98, his first season as the Capitals’ starter, Kolzig impressed in 64 games, going 33-18-10 with a .920 save percentage and a 2.20 GAA. He was an All-Star acrobatic goaltender who could do anything to stop the puck and played with such confidence and collectedness that he could not be stopped.
What made Kolzig so dynamic was his athleticism. He had great flexibility and lateral movement and could get across fast. “Godzilla” was also outstanding when it came to following and reading the play and knowing exactly from where the player was going to shoot the puck.
That same year, Kolzig led his team to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance against the Detroit Red Wings. In 21 playoff games, he posted a remarkable 1.95 GAA and .941 save percentage, as well as four shutouts and 12 wins. There was nothing stopping Kolzig from becoming one of the most iconic goaltenders in the game. He was considered for the Hart and Vezina trophies that season.
Creating a Legacy
Kolzig started his legacy within the Capitals organization, becoming the team’s starter for years. He played all but one of his 17 seasons in the NHL with Washington. Through his time with the Capitals, Kolzig was nominated three times for the Vezina and twice for the Hart, and was a three-time All-Star. He also won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2006.
He also managed to break every goaltending record in the Capitals’ book. He is the team’s winning-est goalie with 301 wins and played the most games with 711. He also holds the franchise record with 35 shutouts; he even scored 17 points in his time with the team. Additionally, his 18,013 saves are the most by any Caps goalie ever.
For years, Kolzig was the Caps’ most trusted man in net, and he thrived in the spotlight. He quickly set the bar for what it takes to be one of the most iconic goaltenders in the NHL, by showing off his speed.
Eventually, Kolzig’s numbers dipped, and he suffered a torn MCL in February 2007, which took a lot away from his time in the NHL. The Capitals went on to acquire Cristobal Huet, who took over as the team’s starter. Kolzig saw that his time with the team was coming to an end, but that didn’t stop him from playing, as he went on to play with the Tampa Bay Lightning for his final NHL campaign.
Before he became the bearded, long-haired “Holtbeast” that we know today, Holtby had a long ride to the top of the NHL. As Washington dealt with a goalie carousel of José Théodore, Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, the Captials’ 2008 fourth-round pick was looking for his break, trying to shine with the Hershey Bears.
Making the Cut
Finally, long after Théodore left, the Capitals were struggling with goaltending injuries. Varlamov was not performing up to par, and after Neuvirth fell victim to injury toward the end of the 2011-12 campaign, Holtby got his chance with the team, which turned into making him the team’s starter in the 2012 playoffs.
In the team’s underdog playoff series against the Boston Bruins, Holtby shined in net and had the demeanor of a goaltender who had played for years in the NHL. He was quick and knew how to position himself to take on any of the Bruins’ offense. He displayed great confidence from his first game and never faltered. In the Capitals 14-game playoff series, Holtby finished with a 1.95 GAA and .935 save percentage and quickly became a favorite within the organization.
That offseason, the Capitals traded Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche and would bring Holtby up to the NHL full-time, where he would battle Neuvirth for the starting spot. In the lockout campaign, Holtby went 23-13-1, with a .920 save percentage and a 2.58 GAA. He beat out Neuvirth and went on to yet another impressive postseason series.
Rocky Road and Redemption
In 2013-14, the Capitals suffered their worst season in years and failed to make the postseason for the first time in seven years. Holtby struggled and lost a great deal of his confidence.
He allowed soft goals, was inconsistent, and faltered at critical times. When the trade deadline came around, general manager George McPhee traded Neuvirth for Jaroslav Halak, which completely ripped at Holtby’s confidence. He would have to deal with another skilled veteran presence stealing the spotlight.
However, after that season, where Holtby posted the “worst” numbers of his career (.915 save percentage, 2.85 GAA), Washington cleaned out the front office and coaching staff and hired new management, who declared Holtby would be the team’s starter.
After that, Holtby regained his and worked closely with new goalie coach Mitch Korn. Soon after, he was the All-Star he is today. He tied Martin Brodeur for the most wins in a season with 48, and also holds the Capitals’ franchise records for best GAA (2.31) and save percentage (.922). He won the Vezina in 2016 and is a two-time All-Star who will surely help the Capitals as they continue to pursue their first Stanley Cup.
Though Carey only spent two seasons with the Capitals and five in the NHL, Carey will go down as one of the best netminders in franchise history. He was the highest-drafted goalie of 1992, taken 32nd overall by Washington and he was considered the next star goaltender to enter the NHL, and part of the future of the franchise.
Fifteen Minutes of Capitals’ Fame
Carey shined in his rookie debut in 1994-95, going 18-6-3 and posting an impressive 2.13 GAA. He was among the best goalies in the NHL and was named an All-Star, as well as a Calder and Vezina nominee. However, a poor showing in his first-ever playoff series led to questions about his future NHL career.
In 1996, Carey came back to win the Vezina, posting excellent numbers and showing great ability in net. He led the league with nine shutouts and broke the Caps’ former franchise record of 35 wins. However, Carey would again stumble in the playoffs, and through 10 games in his postseason career he posted a .818 save mark and 4.62 GAA.
An Odd Ending
Olaf Kolzig outshined Carey in the playoffs and in the regular season and emerged as the Capitals’ starter. After that, Washington dealt Carey to Boston in a blockbuster deal, where he continued to struggle. After that short stint with the Bruins, he headed to St. Louis for one last season. Unfortunately, after that, he couldn’t find an NHL job at 25 years old.
“Jim told me he had to get away from hockey, that it wasn’t fun anymore,” Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer told the media. “Things weren’t going well, and he just decided that he had had enough.”
Though his career was short-lived, Carey will go down in history as one of the best goaltenders in franchise history.