The Washington Capitals returned rookie goalie Sebastien Charpentier to the minors yesterday with starter Olaf Kolzig back from a wrist injury, but the move is likely a temporary assignment. Charpentier outplayed veteran backup Craig Billington while Kolzig was on injured reserve and is slated to become the regular backup in the near future.

Charpentier, 25, went 2-1 in three starts with Washington, including a 43-save masterpiece Saturday in Philadelphia. Billington, 36, who is in his 15th NHL season, has struggled since the start of training camp and was pulled from two of the four starts he made this season. He may not get another start.

Kolzig is a workhorse and averages more than 70 appearances per season (82 games), and Coach Bruce Cassidy plans to ride him the next few weeks with ample time off between games. By the time Washington turns to its backup again, Charpentier could be recalled from his stint in Portland, Maine, where he will get the consistent playing time a young goalie needs, with Billington perhaps traded or bought out.

General Manager George McPhee would not comment on any possible future transactions, saying only: "Olie is going to play every game it looks like for the next few weeks, and we'd like to keep Charpentier playing regularly."

Washington plays three games a week for the duration of the month and Kolzig has often started 15 straight games or more.

Fund Set Up

Minor league forward Chris Ferraro lost his wife Jennifer to cancer last week. The family is asking that, in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to a fund in Jennifer's name, which is being set up to benefit gastric cancer research. Cards and donations may be sent to the Jennifer Ferraro Fund, P.O. Box 155, Sound Beach, N.Y. 11789. Ferraro and his twin brother Peter have spent the last two seasons in Portland, each getting a brief recall with Washington last season. . . . Defenseman Sylvain Cote, 36, who was sent to the minors last week after playing one game with Washington this season, has agreed to most of the stipulations of a contract buyout and the process could be completed by the weekend, General Manager George McPhee said. . . . Forward Glen Metropolit and defensemen Steve Eminger and Alex Henry were scratched from last night's game.

Bettman Speaks Out

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who will accompany the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings to the White House today, attended last night's game. Bettman reiterated his stance that the league needs systemic changes to its collective bargaining agreement to ensure the long-term future of the NHL, and that the NHL Players Association is still unwilling to begin negotiations on a new deal. The current CBA expires in September 2004. Bettman also praised the crackdown on obstruction ("we're committed to it," he said) and the new hurry-up line change rule, which has trimmed 16 minutes from game times. He called the protective netting installed in all arenas "the only thing to do in the face of this tragedy" after a young fan died after being struck by a puck in Columbus, Ohio, last season. Some fans have complained about the nets and teams are changing lighting angles and the style of the netting to improve the situation.