The Washington Capitals received more than 1,000 e-mails yesterday from DirecTV subscribers in the greater Washington area who were unable to watch Wednesday's season opener.

The Capitals' first game in 18 months -- a 3-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets at MCI Center -- was broadcast by Comcast SportsNet but was blacked out inadvertently by DirecTV because of a technical problem, according to Bob Marsocci, DirecTV's vice president of communications.

"This is very disheartening for us, and it has nothing to do with blackout rules, the Capitals, Comcast SportsNet or the NHL. This is a DirecTV issue," the Capitals said in a statement yesterday.

DirecTV customers in parts of New Jersey, San Jose and Long Island experienced similar accidental blackouts.

"We apologize to those customers who missed the game," Marsocci said in an e-mail. "We are addressing this issue and will closely monitor those systems tonight to see that no further blackout errors occur."

Bondra Makes Return

Longtime Capital Peter Bondra returns for the second time to Washington wearing an opponent's jersey tonight, this time with the Atlanta Thrashers.

Bondra, one of the Capitals' most popular players during his nearly 14 seasons with the team, was traded to Ottawa in February 2004 and faced the Capitals for the first time about a month later. He is Washington's career leader in goals and points.

Last month, the 37-year-old right wing flirted with the idea of returning to Washington, but ultimately rejected the Capitals' offer and instead signed an incentive-laden, one-year contract with the Thrashers. Florida shut out Atlanta, 2-0, Wednesday night.

"I don't know what to expect," Bondra told a reporter. "There [is] no reason I should be boo[ed] there. Whatever happens, happens. There's not any hard feelings. I'm looking forward, not backwards. I have a lot of memories there, but it's behind me. I'm playing for the Thrashers."

Measuring Attendance

Washington's announced attendance of 16,325 for Wednesday's season opener was slightly smaller than that of the Anaheim at Chicago (16,533) and Colorado at Edmonton (16,839) games. Only the New York Islanders at Buffalo Sabres drew fewer fans (15,702).

Like all NHL teams, the Capitals measure attendance by the number of tickets distributed, rather than by only those purchased. The club's attendance figure included about 1,500 that were distributed to season ticket holders free of charge as a reward for renewing contracts. Another 1,000 tickets were purchased by majority owner Ted Leonsis at a reduced rate as part of a sponsorship package for America Online. Leonsis is vice chairman of AOL.

A small number of tickets were given to players and front-office employees.

Ouellet Demoted

The Capitals have assigned goaltender Maxime Ouellet to Hershey of the American Hockey league, according to a source. He must first clear waivers before playing for the Bears, and there is no guarantee the once-touted prospect will. He must be claimed by noon today.

Ouellet, 24, struggled during the preseason, yielding 18 goals in four games. On Tuesday, Washington claimed goalie Brent Johnson off of waivers to replace him. Johnson, 28, will back up Olie Kolzig and could get his first action when the Capitals play tomorrow in Atlanta. . . . The Capitals were off yesterday.

Capitals' Alexander Ovechkin pushes the puck past Columbus Blue Jackets' Adam Foote in Wednesday night's season-opening 3-2 victory at MCI Center.