- The Washington Times - Monday, October 3, 2005

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins pretty much used their regular-season lineup last night against a much weaker band of Washington Capitals in the exhibition finale for both. The result was predictable.

Washington’s Matt Bradley tied the game eight minutes into the first period and that was the lone bright spot as the Penguins manhandled a younger, far less experienced team 8-1. And the game wasn’t that close.

The Caps have 27 players on the roster, 25 of them skaters. The late arrival of forwards Jeff Friesen via trade with New Jersey and Petr Sykora from the Czech Republic has confused the personnel issue and probably will cost two forwards who thought they had made roster. Final cuts have to be made by 3p.m. tomorrow, although many teams already are down to the league maximum of 23 or less.

For several players, last night was the last chance to make a good impression and hope a spot on the roster was available. It also gave the club an opportunity to reassess what it had and what, if any, emergency additions might be necessary.

Certainly goalie Maxime Ouellet, who the club hoped could back up starter Olie Kolzig and play possibly as many as 20 games, did himself no favors last night. He surrendered three goals in the first period, including one he kicked in, watching his already fat goals-against average grow even larger.

Ouellet has not had a good camp and this comes after a relatively weak season last year in the AHL (15-20-3, 2.89). His season was cut short by a groin injury, but the club said he had made a complete recovery.

If the team decides it can’t yet entrust the backup duties to Ouellet, it may have to turn to the free agent market. Interestingly, veteran Byron Dafoe, who the Caps selected in the second round of the 1989 draft — one round after Kolzig — is among the available players. The two goalies are still very good friends.

Defensively, Mathieu Biron continued to struggle as he has throughout camp and Nolan Yonkman, trying to come back after two reconstructive knee surgeries, did not have a strong game.

Lawrence Nycholat didn’t look like the AHL All-Star of last season, and Jakub Cutta’s play was OK, but neither was impressive.

In short, team officials said the players would make decisions for them, and that’s exactly what is happening.

And what about Sykora, making his first NHL appearance in three years? The Caps probably just wanted to see if he was in any kind of playing shape and whether he showed any semblance of the European standout they had been hoping for. Last night’s game was not the proper forum to find out.

Notes — How much of an impact has top draft pick Sidney Crosby had on a struggling Penguins franchise? By the middle of August, the team already had exceeded total sales for the 2003-04 season with 480,000 tickets. Club officials expect an increase of 5,000 fans a game. … Sergei Gonchar started on defense against his old team last night. Gonchar has played more NHL games (669) than last night’s entire Caps defense (332).

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