Washington Capitals Coach Ron Wilson will have to call a handful of players into his office Wednesday morning and deliver some painful news. He'll explain that despite their unwavering effort, despite outperforming several high-priced veterans, despite showing they belong in the National Hockey League, they are going back to the minors.

Forward Glen Metropolit knows the routine. Metropolit was arguably Washington's best player in tonight's 2-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at the Scope, the Capitals' preseason finale, and was great throughout the exhibition games.

Previously, he's been sent back because he was too small. Then he wasn't strong enough. And now he's caught in a numbers game -- a minor league veteran in a game of millionaires. He can be easily returned to the minors; they can't. The same can be said for Jeff Toms, Alexei Tezikov and Alexandre Volchkov -- they've outworked more established players such as Dmitri Mironov, Ulf Dahlen and Jan Bulis, but will likely have nothing but a ticket to Portland, Maine, to show for it.

"There's some people I'm not really happy with, and some guys have worked really hard and deserve to play with us," Wilson said. "And now we have to decide what to do with them. Glen definitely deserves to play with us, but we're going to have to send a bunch of guys down. And I can't give any of them a good reason why they're going down other than we've got too many people here."

Metropolit scored in each of the previous two preseason games and was a constant terror on the top line with Adam Oates and Peter Bondra tonight. He created six potential scoring chances, made a beautiful feed to nearly set up another goal and hit a post. He was all over the puck. He played like he belonged, plain and simple.

But for someone such as Metropolit, sometimes that's still not enough.

"I'm 25 now and I've been working so hard for this chance," Metropolit said. "I really committed myself, and at the level I'm playing at right now, I feel I can play at this level and succeed. When you play well at this level you hate to have to go down. You want to keep playing at this pace and elevating your game."

Metropolit's line came out buzzing and helped set a tone for a dominant first period, Washington's best of the preseason. Recently re-signed winger Richard Zednik, in his preseason debut, nearly scored on his first shift and hit a post on his second. Sergei Gonchar sent a one-timer inches from the net. Passes were crisp and creative. The pace was high.

But the strain of playing five games in seven nights wilted the Capitals in the second period and they never recovered. Carolina began gradually taking over the game, and Jeff O'Niell scored twice in the third period to put the game away.

Afterward, Metropolit showered and dressed with the Capitals for perhaps the last time (at least for a while) and met with friends on his way to the bus. He could feel proud of how he had played, but not satisfied. He's closer to the NHL than he's ever been before -- just a phone call away -- but not close enough.

"As long as I can say to myself, `I gave it all I have,' I'll be happy," Metropolit said. "And I can do that. Now it's up to them. The ball is in their court."

Capitals Notes: Defenseman Ken Sutton, acquired from New Jersey in Monday's waiver draft, made his debut tonight. It's likely the Capitals, who have 11 NHL-ready defensemen, will move someone soon. . . . Defensemen Rob Zettler and Nolan Baumgartner and goalkeeper Martin Brochu were assigned to Portland. . . . Washington finished the preseason 5-2, with both losses to Carolina.