As we celebrate the Capitals' 40th anniversary, let's take a moment to...
Catching up with Kolzig: The State of Capitals Goalie Development
Reading Royals’ Goaltender Philipp Grubauer tracks the play behind his net in a recent game against the Trenton Titans (Photo Credit: M. Richter)
Over the past weekend, I was fortunate enough to sit down with Capitals Alumnus & Associate Goaltending Coach Olaf Kolzig to talk about the state of Caps goaltending. He’s been spending his time primarily with the Reading Royals recently, but thanks to the short distance between Washington’s ECHL and AHL affiliates he’s had a chance to keep an eye on all of the Caps goalies currently residing in North America.
CO: Just in general, how are you feeling about the goalies this year (that you’ve got in-system)? You’ve got five in this area – if you want to start with Holtby, and then work your way down.
Kolzig: Well, I think Dave [Prior] and I are both very pleased with the way that the goaltending has gone this year. The success that Braden [Holtby] had in Washington in the spring, the birth of his son. You didn’t really know what kind of mindset he was going to be in coming back for another year in the American league [with the Hershey Bears], but he’s so dialed in and so focused, really haven’t had to do a whole lot with him. His game is dead on.
Dany Sabourin, he had one rough night against Rochester, but he’s been very solid as well, obviously. He’s a pro’s pro. He’s a guy that, as a coach, you really enjoy working with, because you tell him to make the adjustment and he makes it right away.
So, those two guys are fantastic. And then you come down [to Reading], and you’ve got Philipp Grubauer, who is so mature beyond his years. He didn’t have that success early on in the season, and I’m not saying as far as the way he was playing, but just the wins weren’t coming in for him. As a young guy, sometimes – especially with the success he had last year in South Carolina – that can weigh on your mind a little bit. So, we had to tell him that it’s not necessarily the result as an indication of how you’re playing. You’ve got to have that self-belief that you’re doing the right thing, and eventually when you keep doing it the wins will start piling up.
The team’s played a lot better in front of him, getting a lot more goal support now, so he’s won four in a row [five, now, at the time of this article].
CO: Eventually they’ll get a PP goal in front of him [at the time, Reading was 0/39 PPs on the season]
Kolzig: Eventually, that’d be nice. But you can’t control that, so you just do what you can do, and obviously Brandon [Anderson] was going to be the real – not question mark, but just due to the limited amount he played last year in Junior, and then coming pro, we didn’t know what to expect. Based off of what we saw in training camp, to what I saw last week in practice, to what I’ve seen tonight [Saturday, Nov 10] in the first period, he’s improved remarkably.
And then Sergey Kostenko is going to be hopefully cleared to play, or at least practice full time in the next week or two.
CO: So Kostenko’s out on injury, then?
Kolzig: [Nods] He’s out on injury. Hopefully, the lockout ends so that Holts goes up to Washington, Philipp goes to Hershey, and then Sergey and Andy can play here. That’d be the ideal situation. But if it’s not, then at some point the Caps will talk to Larry and Dave and I will have to make a decision about what we’re going to do with Sergey and find him a place to play. But overall, I think we’re very very pleased with how everybody’s been playing.
CO: Are you guys keeping an eye on Steffen Soberg? I know he was playing in the Four Nations Tournament for Norway.
Kolzig: Dave was actually going to go there last week, or two weeks ago – Norway never submitted their roster, so there wasn’t a guarantee Soberg was on the team – so they didn’t want to book a flight, fly over there, and then have him not play. So he didn’t end up going. We have European scouts, and they’ll keep us abreast of Soberg’s development.
CO: At this point, are you expecting him to come over and play over here [in North America]?
Kolzig: I mean, at some point. That’s something him and his agent have to discuss. Ideally, we would have loved to see him in Swift Current [CHL] last year, and that didn’t work out. So, we felt like he really missed a vital year of development. But obviously, we’re pretty deep at that position, so he’s got some ground to make up. He’s part of our group of young guys, our prospects, so we still treat him like he’s one of ours. Until he’s not anymore, we’re going to try to give him the best opportunity so that he can try to make it at the pro level.
CO: You had mentioned hoping that everybody rolls up once the NHL gets back into action, do you see the break/time down being in some ways a good thing right now, with the guys getting ice time further down, or would there be more of a benefit to them in facing a higher level of competition?
Kolzig: In an ideal world, I’d love to see Braden back up in the NHL, and I’d love to see Philipp in the American league. We felt last year that Philipp had the ability, before the season started, to play in the American league. But unfortunately, it was a numbers situation, and he benefited from playing a ton down in South Carolina. So, for him, it’s more important to be down [in Reading] and play, as opposed to being up there and sitting behind Braden. And it was more important for Braden to come down, play in the American league, than sit on the sidelines and wait for this lockout to end. His development, based off – coming off of last year’s playoffs – it was vital that he kept developing and kept playing.
CO: It’s been two playoffs in a row where Grubauer has had fluke injuries and been unable to play – at what point does it go from coincidence to concern?
Kolzig: It’s an unfortunate thing. He gets mono, and he gets a torn ligament in his thumb – it’s not like he had the flu or a groin pull, where you can look at a player and go “Okay, it’s pressure time in the year, and he’s got some sort of illness or injury.” That’s not the case with Philipp. He took Windsor to the Memorial Cup, so we know that the kid – if anyone knew him, he was just so disappointed with that whole thumb thing happened last year. I mean, look what happened – [Michal] Neuvirth and [Tomas] Vokoun both get injured, there’s his chance to go to Hershey to play, so he was bummed out. He did everything he could to get that injury one hundred percent, he came to camp in great shape, you just play. Injuries are an unfortunate byproduct of the game. You can’t predict when it’s going to happen, so for us it’s not a concern, it’s just we hope he’s able to be there for us in the playoffs.