- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 27, 2001

ATLANTA The Washington Capitals gave up a fluke power-play goal eight minutes into the third period last night and were unable to cash in on their own chances in losing 1-0 to the Atlanta Thrashers.

The loss left the Caps 5-5-1 after 11 games and with a 3-5-1 road record after going through one of the most brutal opening schedules in club history.

Atlanta broke the scoreless draw at 7:57 of the third period when highly touted rookie Ilya Kovalchuk took a shot from a bad angle right along the goal line to Olie Kolzig's right. It was the smart thing to do shoot into a crowd and hope for a lucky bounce. That is exactly what Kovalchuk, last June's No. 1 draft pick overall, got. The puck hit something and glanced into the cage. It was the rookie's fifth score of the season.

Washington had many scoring chances, but goalie Milan Hnilicka, now 2-0-1 lifetime against the Caps, put on an exhibition that didn't reflect his record of 1-4-0 entering the game. He was quick and anticipated every move the Caps made, as did his defenders, who obviously spent some time watching Washington videotapes. Hnilicka made 37 saves.

"[Hnilicka] played very well you can't take that away from him. But we didn't get the puck where he wasn't," Caps coach Ron Wilson said. "When he was down, we shot low. We couldn't seem to get the puck up high, and we didn't have enough traffic in front of him. It was just one of those nights where we went left and the puck went right."

Not that Kolzig played badly. He faced far fewer shots than Hnilicka, but some forced quick, acrobatic stops, such as one in the third period on which the puck squeezed through his pads. He managed to twirl around and belly-flop on it to prevent damage.

The game started as if the team that scored last would win, but that quickly proved groundless. Less than 30 seconds into the game, Atlanta defender Jiri Slegr bounced a shot off the right post, but the Caps regrouped and went the other way. At 1:44 of the first, Peter Bondra got off two quick shots and Dainius Zubrus a third, all within just a few seconds, but Hnilicka rejected all three tries and made it look quite easy.

The biggest disappointment for the Caps through two periods had to be their power play, which was rendered powerless by Atlanta's penalty-killers. Washington, ranked second on the power play coming into the game, failed to connect on any of its five opportunities, but much of the credit went to the Thrashers, who refused to let the Caps set up long enough to mount a cohesive attack.

"They did a great job. They were blocking shots and diving all over the place," Wilson said. "I'm not disappointed I'm disappointed we lost but our effort was one of the best efforts we had all year in terms of generating offense, but the puck just wouldn't go in the net."

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