LANDOVER -- The Washington Capitals have had their problems this season with teams they are supposed to beat.
Last night they continued their disturbing trend by losing to the Hartford Whalers, 8-2, at the Capital Centre.
The only two Wales Conference teams Washington has lost to this season are the Whalers and Philadelphia Flyers -- in fourth place in their respective divisions. In their last 10 games the Capitals are 4-0 against winning teams and 1-4-1 against teams with losing records. The loss kept the Capitals from clinching second place in the Patrick Division. The Pittsburgh Penguins still have an outside chance of catching the Capitals.
Leading last-place Quebec by 13 points, Hartford clincvhed a playoff spot with the win. The New York Rangers clinched first place in the Patrick Division last night with a 4-3 win over the Flyers.
Washington began the game with a goal in the first 19 seconds by Dimitri Khristich and led 2-1 after the first period.
Hartford went to work with a vengeance in the second and third periods, scoring seven consecutive goals. The Whalers scored in just about every way possible. They scored three power-play goals (Washington had allowed only one this month), a short-handed goal, at even strength and on a penalty shot. They chased starting Capitals goalie Don Beaupre after the score rose to 5-2 and treated his replacement Jim Hrivnak almost as shabbily.
"I think we got a little overconfidence after our excellent first period," said Capitals coach Terry Murray. "We started so well, had so many quality chances and we could have been ahead 4-1 0r 5-1 after the first period. Then we got cocky. We made some passes, we did not slide on defense. We fell down. We got away from fundamentals. We tried trick plays and we didn't go to the net to get rebounds. Hartford just outworked us."
" I don't know how I can get this through to them. There are no automatic two points in this league."
The loss was the second worst absorbed by Washington this season. The New York Islanders defeated the Capitals, 8-1, Nov. 30 in the Nassau Coliseum.
Khristich, scoring on the rebound of a shot by Paul MacDermid 19 seconds after the game's opening faceoff, gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead.
Bobby Holik stole the puck from Michal Pivonka in front of the Washington goal and fed Mikael Andersson for an easy goal into an open net to tie the score.
The Capitals regained the lead on Sylvain Cote's power-play goal on a slap shot from between the circles. It was Washington's eighth extra-man goal in the last 10 opportunities.