Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Washington Capitals’ preseason began the same way much of last season went — with a one-goal loss as the result of their failure on special teams.

The first of two practices starts at 11 a.m. today, and it’s fairly certain coach Glen Hanlon will direct his team’s energies toward the power-play and penalty-kill units — and maybe at not taking unnecessary penalties in the first place.

Tampa Bay overcame a two-goal deficit and won the exhibition game 3-2 at Verizon Center on Dan Boyle’s goal 2:24 into overtime. Four of the eight games played between the two teams last season required an extra session.

Washington held a shaky 2-1 lead midway through the third period when sloppy play caught up to it, as so often happened on the way to a 29-41-12 record last season.

The Caps failed to connect on nine of their 10 power-play chances; Tampa Bay was slightly better at 2-for-8, and that was good enough. The Lightning’s last two goals came on power plays, including the tying score with Steve Eminger and Kris Beech in the penalty box.

“We’ve put some focus on achievement, and that’s not good enough,” coach Glen Hanlon said of the one-goal defeat. “These are the ones we have to win. For us to get where we want to be, we have to win one-goal games. Again, our penalties, it’s not acceptable, and they were all penalties.”

There was obvious rust on both teams, but that’s to be expected. However, both goalies — Marc Denis for the Lightning and Olie Kolzig for the Caps — played well. Denis made 40 saves, and Kolzig had 33.

The loss nullified a strong performance by Alexander Semin, who was back in a Washington uniform for the first time since 2003-04. He scored the Caps’ first goal just 2:20 after the opening faceoff and played a solid game throughout the evening, especially when he was with Alex Ovechkin on the power play. Semin was slammed into the boards during overtime but was not seriously hurt.

Matt Pettinger got the Caps’ second goal when he tipped in a drive by Brian Pothier 12 minutes into the second period.

Players from both teams clogged the front of the net, blocking Kolzig’s view when Rob DiMaio centered a pass to Norm Milley, who managed to get the puck past the goalie. Vincent Lecavalier added a third-period score when Washington was two men short, and Boyle got the winner with Brooks Laich in the penalty box, a rare overtime penalty call.

“The big thing for us is we have to learn how to play with the lead,” said Pothier, a free agent acquisition from Ottawa. “We need to limit their chances in the second and third and try to shut them down. We didn’t have much success with that tonight.”

Notes — Bruce Cassidy, the Caps’ coach once removed and an assistant with Chicago last season, landed a new job as coach of the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League. He said he wanted to start over at the bottom and see whether he could apply all the things he learned in his recent troubled past. …

Defenseman Jamie Heward and forwards Chris Clark and Dainius Zubrus were held out while they finish recovering from offseason surgeries. Center Brian Sutherby also was a late scratch. …

Some things do not change. Verizon Center still takes as long to announce goal-scorers as any arena in the league, a dubious honor. …

Twelve players in Caps training camp won the American Hockey League championship with Hershey early this summer. …

The Caps face the Penguins in Pittsburgh tomorrow night and play host to Philadelphia in Hershey at 5 p.m. on Sunday.

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