The Washington Capitals' stretch of four exhibition games in seven days did not begin as they hoped it would tonight.

Joe Sacco drew a two-minute penalty for high-sticking just 35 seconds into the first period, and Olaf Kolzig got beat for three first-period goals as the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Capitals, 4-1, at Crown Coliseum.

The loss was Washington's first in three preseason games.

"We came out flat in the first period," Sacco said. "We didn't seem to have the energy we needed. We didn't have any jump."

Before the game, Washington Coach Ron Wilson said he wanted to focus on defense and the power play. The Caps went 1 for 9 on power plays tonight, scoreless on their first eight, and the defense gave up goals to four Carolina players.

Washington outshot Carolina, 22-17, but managed just four shots in the decisive first period. Eric Fichaux, battling to become the Hurricanes' number three goaltender, got the shutout in his first game of the preseason.

Kolzig made 13 saves in his first preseason outing. He had a much better second period than first, saving all six Hurricanes shots, but the game already had been lost.

"We didn't even give up 20 shots, so generally I'm pleased with the defense," Wilson said. "But we had some glaring defensive breakdowns that resulted in some goals.

"We have worked hard for the past three or four days and didn't have the gas that we needed for this game."

The Hurricanes' first three goals, from rookie Craig MacDonald, Steve Halko and rookie Shane Willis, came in the first 8 minutes 13 seconds. Andrei Kovalenko, who assisted on Halko's goal, scored 9:43 into the third period.

Mike Eagles scored the Capitals' goal, on a power play with 11 seconds remaining.

The Hurricanes even held an advantage in a fight that stopped play with 5:07 remaining in the game. Carolina's Bates Battaglia pounded on Jeff Halpern as the crowd of 4,136 stood and cheered. Battaglia, Halpern and the Capitals' Joe Reekie received game misconducts, and three other players received misconduct penalties resulting from the brawl.

During the melee, Washington's Chris Simon attacked Sami Kapanen with his stick while Kapanen was on the bench in a move that the Hurricanes reportedly may take to the league office.

The Capitals, who play at Buffalo on Friday, get another shot at the Hurricanes on Sept. 28 in Norfolk. By that time, Washington should have the services of winger Richard Zednik, who signed a three-year deal Tuesday.

"I'm not sure when he'll play," Wilson said. "We don't want to rush him in too soon, but he's definitely a guy who can help us defensively."

Jan Bulis, who might be paired with Zednik, led the Capitals with three shots against the Hurricanes.

Neither Sacco nor Wilson said they were discouraged by the game's outcome.

"Sure, you like to win," Wilson said. "But the preseason is a time to try different things, give up opportunities to a lot of other people."

Said Sacco: "You don't like to start a stretch like we've got coming up this way, but we'll be okay. There's a lot of hockey left to play. I haven't played with Zednik yet, but I've played against him, and he's a fine player."