- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2006

Veteran players and Washington Capitals coaches feel the problems that caused Wednesday night’s overtime exhibition loss to Tampa Bay are fixable. Then one question remains — when will the lessons learned be put into practice?

“We’re finding new ways to lose and that’s definitely a worry,” said one player who asked not to be identified. “We have to learn how to hold a lead; I guess you could say we have to learn how to win.”

Others disputed the assertion that players who get to the NHL level don’t know how to win but admitted the manner in which the game was frittered away was eerily similar to many of last season’s losses on the way to last place in the Southeast Division.

“The bottom line is we took too many penalties and allowed them to create more chances so they would have the opportunities to win,” goalie Olie Kolzig said. “If we don’t give them that 5-on-3 [power play with Steve Eminger and Kris Beech off], the odds are pretty good we win the game. Those are things we have to learn. We addressed it before the game, that we have to get out of the habit of taking so many penalties.

“But we did a far better job [Wednesday night] than we did at the same point last year. Last year was an absolute joke the way penalties were called.”

Coach Glen Hanlon agreed, emphatically.

“Our game the other night was a heckuva lot better than our first exhibition game a year ago,” he said. “Down in Carolina we took eight minor penalties in the first period alone and the game was over.”

The Caps lost to the Lightning because special teams were unable to execute at an acceptable NHL level and because the Caps refuse to stay out of penalty trouble, even though they are well aware of the consequences. Washington’s power play scored just once in 10 tries; Tampa Bay scored twice in eight.

“What we have to learn for us to make the playoffs is we cannot repeat the same mistakes we made last year,” Hanlon said. “We have to show improvement. If we average nine or 10 penalties and we are 27th in penalty-killing, we’d better stop taking penalties if we want to make the playoffs, and we’d better do better than two out of eight on our kills because that won’t get us in, either.”

Left wing Alex Ovechkin did not practice yesterday and Hanlon said the player was slightly injured and would not face the Penguins (1-1) in Pittsburgh tonight. Ovechkin said he was fine.

“See, everything fine, not hurt,” he said, dancing first on one leg, then the other, raising his knees to chest level.

“He’s got a little tiny injury but I wouldn’t write a big story that he’s out for an extended period of time,” Hanlon said. “We’re just being very careful.

“One of our goals in this training camp is to come out of it healthy, 100 percent healthy and that’s a tall task.”

A handful of veterans are already sidelined from offseason surgeries.

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