- The Washington Times - Friday, September 27, 2002

DALLAS There may be something to this bonding stuff. The Washington Capitals came to Dallas with their tails tucked firmly between their legs and a 0-3 preseason record.
They played a little golf, did a little physical activity at a ranch outside town and went to a team dinner.
And for two and a half periods it worked. The Caps were giant-killers, running all over the Dallas Stars and making it look easy. But hockey is a 60-minute game, or 60 minutes, 19 seconds, as it was last night.
The Caps got sloppy in the third period, blew a three-goal lead and were beaten 19 seconds into overtime when Mike Modano scored for a 4-3 Stars victory.
It took less then seven minutes in the third period to wipe out what had been a sparkling performance by Washington. It wasn't perfect; this is still preseason, and players are still trying to get used to each other. But there were far fewer turnovers, the team was much more alert to its defensive responsibilities and it was much more protective of its goaltenders instead of offering them up for sacrificial slaughter.
More than in their previous games, the Caps did not aimlessly chase around the rink. They played with more discipline, holding their positions instead of being trapped away from the play. And they backed each other up, coming into the picture when a teammate was penned up with the puck.
When playing like that, the Caps can beat anybody. But the play didn't last. From the five-minute mark of the third period, Dallas turned the game around and created a nightmare for coach Bruce Cassidy, who has yet to win in the NHL.
But to begin with, Craig Billington was flawless, a far cry from Saturday night, when he was charged with six goals on 17 shots in 26 minutes and was taken out.
Last night he played 30 minutes, faced 17 shots and let none in. He cut his horrific goals-against (13.85) in half and turned the battle to back up Olie Kolzig into a real fight.
Sebastien Charpentier, who is seeking the same spot, wasn't sharp. He was beaten twice in just over a minute midway through the third period by Jason Arnott, the first a power-play goal, the second a stoppable one-hander when defenseman Todd Rohloff failed to take the Stars forward out of the play. Dallas tied the game with 5:10 left when Niko Kapanen drilled a shot in from the slot.
Washington took an early lead in fact, it was the first time this preseason the Caps have led a game. Matt Pettinger stole a puck just inside the blue line, drove to the middle and ripped a quick wrist shot past Marty Turco 4:22 into the first.
Peter Bondra made it 2-0 halfway through the second when Robert Lang spotted him in the left circle and fed him. Bondra one-timed it, and all Turco saw was a blur.
Sergei Gonchar gave Washington its biggest lead late in the second. Glen Metropolit fed him brilliantly from behind the cage, and the defenseman poked it through a defender and into the net.
Notes Center Jeff Halpern practiced yesterday morning for the first time in several days, a sign his groin injury is starting to come around. It is still unknown when he will be ready to play.
The Caps and their two holdout forwards, Andrei Nikolishin and Dainius Zubrus, didn't talk yesterday, and time is definitely becoming a factor. There are just two weeks until the club opens the season.
Washington is carrying a roster of 29 (not including the holdouts), and no more cuts are planned before Monday, the day of the annual alumni golf tournament at Bethesda Country Club.
The Caps play the Hurricanes tomorrow night in Raleigh, N.C., are in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Wednesday against Pittsburgh, home next Friday against the Hurricanes and finish the preseason with a game in Philadelphia on Oct. 5.
Left wing Ulf Dahlen and goalies Ron Tugnutt and Corey Hirsch are former Caps currently playing with Dallas.
Bill Guerin, who signed with the Stars during the summer, slashed a rookie teammate across the neck during a scrimmage. The rookie wasn't hurt badly, but the story pops up daily in the Texas papers.


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