WASHINGTON – Olie Kolzig got a warm welcome from the crowd in his return to Washington.
His former teammates weren’t so accommodating. Tom Poti, Mike Green and Eric Fehr scored in the first period, Alex Ovechkin added his first goal in 10 games and the Washington Capitals beat Kolzig and the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 on Monday night.
“Olie the Goalie” spent 16 seasons with the Capitals, but signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent after being relegated to a backup role during Washington’s late push for the playoffs last season.
Kolzig broke from his usual game-day schedule and addressed the media after the Lightning’s morning skate. He got to the arena early to make time for old acquaintances in the halls of the Verizon Center.
“It was as far away from a normal routine as it gets,” Kolzig said. “That’s not why it was 3-0 in the first, don’t get me wrong, but after today it’s back to business and getting back to my routine.”
The crowd of 17,932 showed its appreciation of Kolzig’s time with the team, briefly chanting “Olie, Olie” after the national anthem and again during a video tribute. As highlights of Kolzig’s Washington career showed on the scoreboard midway through the first period, the fans gave him a standing ovation.
However, by that time louder cheers had already been heard for the Capitals’ first two goals.
“I didn’t know what to expect going out on the ice – I didn’t expect to be down 3-0 in the first,” Kolzig said.
Brent Johnson, Kolzig’s friend and backup the past three seasons, had a much better day. He finished with 34 saves, and Kolzig had 26 stops.
Johnson and Kolzig went out to dinner Sunday night, along with a few other players from both teams, and Johnson talked with Kolzig in the corridor outside the teams’ locker rooms for several minutes after the game.
“At the start of the game, it was strange,” Johnson said. “Once the puck and the shots started coming, you kind of lose sight of that. But it’s always fun to have Olie with me or play against him.”
Poti scored Washington’s first goal 8:20 into the game. Donald Brashear carried the puck down the right side of the ice and dumped it to Poti, who was following the play and put the puck over Kolzig’s left shoulder for his second goal this season.
Green made it 2-0 less than two minutes later, and Fehr followed with his first goal of the year. Fehr’s slap shot from the top of the left circle gave the Capitals a 3-0 lead with 3:36 left in the opening period.
“We weren’t very good, I didn’t think,” said Washington coach Bruce Boudreau, upset with his team’s play after it built the big lead. “You never want to diss a win, so it was a good win, we must have done some good stuff, but it was frustrating.”
Gary Roberts had a power-play goal in the second for Tampa Bay, and scored again in the game’s final minute. But the Lightning’s renewed effort after the first was not nearly enough to make up for the early deficit.
“After the game, I told the guys, ‘Why try when you are down 3-0? Why do it then?”‘ Lightning coach Barry Melrose said. “It was very disappointing to play like that in front of Olie in Washington. … Probably the biggest game he’s played in years and they show up and do that for him. Those guys should all be hiding their eyes when they walk by Olie Kolzig tonight.”
The Capitals’ final goal came when Ovechkin redirected Alexander Semin’s shot with about four minutes left. It was Ovechkin’s third of the year.
By the end of the night, Kolzig said the fans had switched from chanting his first name to his last name, like other opposing crowds. It was a sign, he said, that some of the emotions of the reunion had dissipated.
“It will never be old hat, but it definitely won’t be as nerve-racking as this one,” Kolzig said. “I’m glad it’s over with.”
Notes: Three players on the Lightning roster – Kolzig, C Jeff Halpern and L Matt Pettinger – have played more games with Washington than anyone currently with the Capitals. Kolzig holds the franchise record with 711 games played in a Washington uniform. … Washington is 6-0-1 at the Verizon Center, the only Eastern Conference team without a regulation loss at home. … Semin’s assist on Ovechkin’s goal gave him 22 points, tying him with Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin for the league lead.