ALBANY, N.Y., SEPT. 15 -- This is a relaxed time for Jim Hrivnak, a period to work on his short-side weaknesses and cutting down on angles.

Seemingly, he is still a goaltending infant at age 22.

But there is an added pressure on him now. He has an opportunity to make this Washington Capitals team, which currently has five goaltenders competing for just two spots during the NHL preseason.

While Mike Liut has a fresh contract and a lock on much of the regular season chores, Hrivnak has an opportunity to become No. 2 now that contract talks are stalling with free agent Don Beaupre.

Tonight, however, Hrivnak reverted back to the early preseason fog that could, if it continues, make him a starter for the Baltimore Skipjacks of the American Hockey League.

He gave up three goals in just over 30 minutes during the Capitals' 4-1 exhibition loss to the New York Rangers in the first-ever hockey game at Albany's year-old, 15,000-seat Knickerbocker Arena.

It was a setback after his strong performance Friday night during a 2-2 tie with the Rangers, a game in which he went unscored upon in 1 1/2 periods.

Two of tonight's goals came in the first period when Hrivnak faced just eight shots. The other came at 7:49 of the second period, just before Caps Coach Terry Murray executed his plan to use two goalies and put in Shawn Simpson for the rest of the game.

"The first couple of days of training camp were not very good, but then he came on after that and played very well. Tonight was just a minor setback for him, especially after the way he played last night," said Murray, seeming little concerned with Hrivnak's performance.

Arguably, none of the three goals were soft.

The first two came on Washington defensive lapses, the third on the Rangers' power play. Still, it was not a great night for Hrivnak, who was a respectable 5-5 with a 3.35 goals-against average in 11 games for Washington last season.

"It wasn't a very good night for me, but I understand that these things happen," Hrivnak said. "{Friday} night might have been an easier game for me; the shots seemed easier."

In two early scrimmages this preseason, Hrivnak had struggled. Back then, Murray seemingly had little good to say about the young goalie, who the coach felt was "fighting the puck."

But now he seems high on him again, a fact that may be related to the Beaupre situation and the fact that the Caps may be in dire need of a backup goaltender.

"I like Jim's style; I'd have to say he's one of our better prospects on the entire team," Murray said. "He just needs to learn how to make the big save in certain situations."

That certainly would have helped him tonight. All three Rangers goals were on wide-open opportunities: situations that good goaltenders deal with most of the time.

"I know that's a problem, it's something I have to work on," Hrivnak said. "At least I'm not butterflying on those like I would have in the past."

Defenseman Chris Felix scored Washington's lone goal, assisted by Alan May at 10:04 of the third period.

The Capitals will play another exhibition game, Sunday against the Hartford Whalers at the Scope in Norfolk, Va.