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Capitals let guard down at home

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It is hard to believe a team could be overconfident going up against a recent Stanley Cup champion, no matter what kind of a slide the former champ was on.

But that possibility was raised by Washington Capitals players last night after they lost 5-4 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a game that became close only in the last 10 minutes.

"I don't know if we were overconfident going into the game or think we were better than we really are, but we didn't show that team enough respect," Caps goalie Olie Kolzig said. "We came close, but because we dug ourselves that big a hole, ultimately we couldn't come out of it."

Said Caps coach Glen Hanlon: "I can't believe that anybody wouldn't respect Tampa Bay. They have 11 guys that have won Stanley Cups. I can't speak on how [the players] feel in terms of what each person was thinking, if their actions on the ice were a direct result of overconfidence. There is such a fine line. You have to watch out for that when you're so confident but always [be] respectful. When you cross that line of not respecting your opponent and being overconfident ..."

That line was drawn because the Caps had won seven out of nine going into the game. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, had lost seven of nine thanks in part to poor goalie play. Marc Denis was in net last night, and it was hard to tell whether he was up to the job or not. Washington took just nine shots in the first two periods.

"It comes right down to the same thing we haven't done all year -- play a full 60-minute game," Washington captain Chris Clark said. "Tonight we had a terrible start, a terrible middle and came on in the third."

But by the time the third period started, Washington trailed 5-2 and the few people in the stands (it was announced as 10,417) were booing lustily.

"There's an old saying," Clark said. "Some people think we're not a good team, but we're better than that. Some people think we're really a good team, and we're not.

"We're in between right now. We can be a really good team. We're not there yet. But we're not a bad team. We're a lot better than we were last year and at the beginning of this year, but we're not where we want to be."

Part of the reason the Lightning were able to run around pretty much unopposed was because the Caps' battleship row was out with injuries. Heavyweights John Erskine, Matt Bradley and Donald Brashear were all sidelined, and Tampa Bay took advantage.

"We missed them a lot," Hanlon. "We get comfortable having them in the lineup. I know they really add to our team."

In order, Alex Ovechkin, Jamie Heward, Kris Beech and Bryan Muir scored for the Caps. Ovechkin boosted his points streak to eight games with a goal and an assist. Ovechkin, Ben Clymer, Beech and Alexander Semin all had two-point nights.

Notes -- The league's holiday moratorium on personnel moves, other than emergency call-ups, is in effect and lasts through Dec. 27. ...

Right wing Richard Zednik (abdominal surgery and placed on injured reserve yesterday), Erskine (bruised foot) and Bradley (bruised hand) were medical scratches last night along with a newcomer, Brashear, who is listed as day-to-day with an unknown injury. Brashear skated by himself before the team warmup but was unable to go.

Called up for his second career NHL game was Alexander Giroux, who was leading Hershey with 21 goals and 32 points. The 21 goals were tied for second in the AHL. Giroux had an impressive training camp and was one of the last players cut.

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