Monday, September 26, 2005

HERSHEY, Pa. — The anticipated individual matchup between Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin, last year’s top draft pick, and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, this year’s top draft choice, failed to materialize last night because the Penguins were the Penguins in name only: The Capitals faced a team of mostly unknown minor leaguers.

But that didn’t matter to the Caps, who snapped a four-game exhibition winless streak with a 3-2 victory. Four of the five goals were on power plays — not a totally unexpected occurrence in this preseason.

Brian Willsie scored a pair on tip-ins and Jeff Halpern added the eventual game-winner when he poked a rebound past Marc-Andre Fleury. Washington’s second and third goals came 21 seconds apart with the Penguins down two men in the third period.

The exhibition featured some eye-opening performances, including one negative.

Washington’s power-play units had opportunities to win the game in the first period but struggled to pull out a late victory against an inferior opponent. Half of the Capitals’ 40 shots came with the man advantage, but for the first 51 minutes they could manage only a tip-in past Fleury.

“When you have that many chances, you should be able to capitalize earlier,” Capitals coach Glen Hanlon said.

The makeup of the teams will be very different when the season begins in little more than a week, but Hanlon said time is running short and special teams will play a larger role this season — as long as officials continue to call the game tightly.

“Right now we’re sort of auditioning different people in different areas,” he said.

Ovechkin was scoreless in his second NHL game, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. He continues to display exceptional skills for a rookie and already is drawing extra coverage. As a result, Hanlon has started to double shift him, hoping Ovechkin can register a point and relieve some pressure.

“It was good game, and we win this game,” said Ovechkin, who emerged from the trainer’s room with a slight limp. “I just try to play hard. I play for team, that’s all. If I score, I’m glad, but we win and I’m glad.”

Center Andrew Cassels and defensemen Jakub Cutta and Nolan Yonkman made their 2005 debuts last night and all three performed well. At one point, Yonkman nearly got into a brawl with two Penguins players, but officials stepped in.

Defensemen Jamie Heward (two assists), rookie Mike Green and forwards Brian Sutherby and Miroslav Zalesak — a free agent acquisition — continued to have fine camps.

And while Fleury kept the Penguins in the game until they were outmanned late in the third period, veteran Olie Kolzig also looked sharp in his two periods, although he did not face the same sort of barrage.

Most of the Capitals will remain in Hershey today and tomorrow for camp, while some veterans will return for the Caps Care Classic today at Springfield Golf and Country Club.

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