Olie Kolzig preaching patience with Caps’ goaltenders

Capitals goaltending coach Olie Kolzig has been preaching a lot of patience these days. To his goalies, to Adam Oates, to himself.

Those sermons are a lot more difficult to preach after nights like Tuesday, when Braden Holtby allowed a pair of soft goals and was pulled after surrendering four goals on 23 shots en route to a 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.

To be fair, Holtby was just one of the reasons the Capitals lost on Tuesday night. But the two goals he surrendered set the tone of the game and illustrated the adjustments he is trying to make while learning a new way to do his job.

In his first season as a full-time goalie coach, Kolzig is asking his goalies to play slightly deeper inside their creases.

“The game today is a lot more East-West than North-South,” Kolzig explained. “We felt a lot of the goals in the league are coming from passes made through the slot, back-door plays, and so what we try to get our goalies to do is to play a little flatter, as opposed to squaring up on the shot.”

Kolzig actually uses a WiFi signal to illustrate his point to Holtby, Michal Neuvirth and Philipp Grubauer. He wants his goalies in the middle of that signal instead of at the edges of the cone.

“The old philosophy was to establish your ice and retreat back as the play is coming toward you,” Kolzig said. “I’m from a generation when a defenseman could hook and hold and you could focus on the puck carrier. You can’t do that anymore. It’s more open, so goalies have to sit back and evaluate what’s in front of them.

“Now we want the goalies to read the play and instead of coming out back to in, you’re staying deep, reading it, and going from in to out.

“If there’s a clean-cut break and one shooter, take ice. But if there is a potential for a backdoor, hold your ground.”

In theory, that philosophy makes perfect sense and it’s one that’s been used for years by goalie gurus Francois and Benoit Allaire with goalies like Patrick Roy, Sean Burke and Henrik Lundqvist. But as Holtby readily admits, it leaves him vulnerable to the second goal he allowed to Jeff Skinner Tuesday night. On Skinner’s first goal, Holtby went down on his left knee and failed to hug the post. That was a physical mistake. On Skinner’s second goal, Holtby was unscreened and was beaten on a wrist shot that is stopped by most goalies on most nights.

“It makes those shots a little tougher because you’re playing deeper and with your body at more of an angle,” Holtby told Monumental Network before Tuesday’s game. “That’s where you have to kind of trust yourself and not be too scared of letting in a soft one from there, because in the long run we believe it will help.”

Capitals fans might be wondering when the long run will arrive. The Caps are 28 games into their season and their goaltending has been below average with a 2.86 goals-against average (23rd in the NHL).

“We knew going into this we were going to give up some goals they weren’t normally used to giving up,” Kolzig said. “But we felt they would be few and far between and the positive effect from that is that they are going to make a lot more saves that they hadn’t made in the past.”

Holtby pointed to a back-door save he made on a Montreal power play Friday night as an example of being in the right position to stop a puck he might not have before. He said that by staying deeper in his crease he’s able to see more of the ice than if he’s at the edge of the crease looking over his shoulder at potential shooters.

Kolzig said there are times Holtby is overaggressive in challenging shooters and needs to be reminded between periods to stay composed.

“We want them to play deep, we want them to read,” he said. “We just don’t want them challenging right out of the gate.

“I don’t want them playing [in their nets] like [Rangers goalie] Henrik Lundqvist. That’s a skill set Henrik has that not a lot of other guys in the league have and that’s because he’s got an exceptional set of eyes and he’s one of the most intelligent players in the game.”

Kolzig said he believes the growing pains Holtby, Neuvirth and Grubauer are enduring now will pay off as the season unfolds and is hoping there is enough patience around him to see it through.

“You can’t bombard them with all this information and expect them to have instant success,” Kolzig said. “As a goalie the last thing you want to do in a game is think. You want it to be automatic and react to the play.”

Holtby said he’s getting closer to that point, despite Tuesday night’s result.

“It’s coming,” he said. “It’s harder to create the subconscious to do them naturally if you don’t do them a whole bunch in games or practices. Those things will take a little more time, but most of the in-zone stuff is second nature already.”

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