QUEBEC -- Washington Capitals goalie Jim Carey had started 21 straight games, but last night the rookie sensation watched from the sidelines, seated on a folding chair in the visiting team's walkway to the ice at Le Colisee.
Across the ice, his teammates came and went from the overcrowded bench as they attempted to win a game for goaltender Olie Kolzig -- something the Capitals had been able to do only once this season before Carey's arrival March 2.
Last night, Kolzig could have thought he was in some evil twilight zone -- at the very least the feeling after this 4-2 loss must have been deja vu.
He had allowed two goals or fewer in eight starts this season and had one win coming in here as the surprise starter.
Now, it was happening again. Another sound game in net, another night when he made the critical first saves, only to be done in by an uncovered Nordique left free to put back a rebound.
"You can't think that way," said Kolzig. "Things were looking good for us after the second [losing 2-1], but we just couldn't put the puck in the net. If you start dwelling on our team's not scoring more or someone broke down, you get yourself in bad habits, like you start making excuses.
"It just makes you a more competitive person, if you just do your job and stop the puck. That's my job. Eventually you have to stop the puck."
Kolzig, who finished with 20 saves, does not anticipate starting tonight against Montreal. The Canadiens, he said, are behind Washington in the standings, and that's where the Capitals want to keep them.
"I'm sure we'll want to change the momentum," said Kolzig. "We're coming off a loss, so we'll go back with 'Ace' and see what happens. I guess I'll probably get one more start before the playoffs, but who knows? I expected to play more during these past six weeks and that didn't happen. So I'll just wait and see what Shoeny [coach Jim Schoenfeld] says and be ready to do my best."
Kolzig was ready to do his best last night. It was his first start since Feb. 25, and he was sharp. But Schoenfeld was sharply disappointed with the lack of support his players gave Kolzig.
The Caps have produced just eight goals in their past five games, and in this game, it was again Peter Bondra, with his 26th goal, who led the charge with a power-play score at 5:26 of the first period. Keith Jones finally added a second, also on a power play, with 9:45 left in the third.
Quebec got goals from Mike Ricci and Curtis Leschyshyn in the first period and then got its third goal on a two-on-one breakaway by Bob Bassen with 12:16 left in the game. Scott Young scored the Nordiques' fourth goal into an empty net with three-tenths of a second left.
"I just felt we were headed for trouble if we kept playing Jim without giving him a break," said Schoenfeld. "And we have to get Olie a game. We have to have them both ready to play in the postseason.
"It's a good thing Olie has the character he has. This is something he'll be able to look back on and laugh about -- maybe as early as the playoffs this year, who knows? But he
persevered, hung in there and he kept himself ready to play and he played well when we called on him. . . . He made enough critical saves for us to win. We just had a few players out there, repeat offenders, who didn't give us 60 minutes. We'll address that."
Schoenfeld said he might make a call-up from the AHL Portland Pirates, given the physical condition of his team today. One who had a noticeable injury was defenseman Jim Johnson, who took an elbow to the head and suffered a concussion.
"I'm fine," Johnson said. "I wanted to go back out there and help, but they wouldn't let me."
The postseason is now just eight games away, and the Capitals continue to hold sixth place in the Eastern Conference, but with little breathing room.
Despite that, Schoenfeld viewed last night as the perfect opportunity to give Carey, who is 14-5-2 with a league-leading 1.85 goals-against average, a break and to get Kolzig, who is also a rookie, a day of work.
The Capitals were on the road, Schoenfeld said he reasoned, playing the best team in the Eastern Conference, a team Washington had beaten in their past two meetings (4-2 and 6-3).
Maybe a surprise appearance by Kolzig would cause a little letdown by Quebec.
There was no letdown for the Nordiques, now 28-9-4, but in the early going of that first period, the Capitals did little to help Kolzig. The Nordiques kept the puck in Washington's third of the ice much of the time. And even in the late going, Quebec seemed to have little trouble breaking free for two-man counterattacks that left Kolzig to fend for himself.
Since Kolzig's last start, a 3-3 tie at New Jersey, he had played 39 minutes in relief of Rick Tabaracci in a 4-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, and 32 minutes in relief of Carey at Florida. He also had two games in Portland, where he was 1-0-1.
"I proved I can sit out awhile and come back and play good hockey," Kolzig said. "I went down to the minors and played a couple, but that's nothing like the intensity up here. Now I know I can hop in there and play well anytime the coach needs me, and that's a big thing for me."
But as far as being able to look back one day and laugh at all this, Kolzig said he hopes that day comes soon.
@4 "Right now," he said, "I'm pulling my hair out."
Washington ..1 ..0 ..1 ..-- ..2
Quebec .. ...2 ..0 ..2 ..-- ..4
Opponent: Montreal Canadiens
Site: Montreal Forum
Radio: WMAL (630 AM)
Outlook: Washington G Jim Carey, who sat out against Quebec last night after starting 21 consecutive games, is expected back tonight. Montreal has lost three straight, including 3-2 to the Boston Bruins on Saturday. Like the Caps, the Canadiens have had problems scoring, with 13 goals in their past six games. Washington C Dave Poulin (groin) is out. Montreal D J. J. Daigneault (bruised ankle) is day-to-day and D Patrice Brisebois (herniated disk) is out.