Caps' losing is costly in division, at home Washington visits New Jersey tonight

Defenseman Al Iafrate sat in front of his locker Saturday, pondering the Washington Capitals' second loss in two days to a Patrick Division rival.

The season is three games old, but with a 1-2 record, it's not too soon to be irritated by a two-game losing streak on home ice.


"Losing streaks, whether they're 10 games or two, aren't good," Iafrate said. "And you should never lose two in a row, especially not at home.

"These are the games we've got to win," he continued. "It's no joke that we came in second in the league last year, but we've got a lot to prove. Last year doesn't mean anything unless you go out and do it again, and the first 22 or 23 games are a lot easier to win than the last 21 or so. Now's the time for us to do it."


But as the Capitals head to New Jersey tonight for a 7:35 meeting with the Devils, they have a lot of work to do. They will be facing a 2-1 team fresh off a 4-2 victory over the New York Rangers, who had easily handled the Caps, 4-2, Friday.

Saturday, against Philadelphia, the Caps failed to take advantage of

their scoring opportunities early and then allowed the Flyers to rally in the third period for a 4-2 victory.

Goals by Greg Palawski, Kevin Dineen and Keith Acton overcame the Caps in the third period.

Washington had controlled much of the action in the first two periods and led at the end of one, when defenseman Calle Johansson scored his third goal of the season. After Flyer Mark Recchi and Capital Mike Ridley, who had moved up to play on a line with Kelly Miller, exchanged goals in the second, the Capitals entered the third period with a 2-1 edge.

But for the third time in as many games, the final 20 minutes belonged to Philadelphia, which has outscored its opposition, 10-0, on the way to the final buzzer.

Capitals coach Terry Murray said he is encouraged by some things he saw Saturday. The Caps outshot the Flyers 34-25, the defense kept super rookie Eric Lindros in check most of the night and the offense created some good scoring opportunities.

But the Caps lost and Murray also had little problem finding fault.


"Every division game is so very important because we play 37 times within our division and it's going to determine your outcome over the year," he said. "We have to play a heck of a lot better. We've got to be sounder defensively. We've got to start capitalizing on opportunities. We created a lot of good opportunities, but we weren't able to finish them. Last year, the puck was going in for us. Now, what's the difference right now? That's the question I have to answer myself."

Murray needs newcomers Pat Elynuik and Bob Carpenter to start scoring, particularly with the absence of goal scorers Dimitri Khristich (broken foot) and Randy Burridge (knee surgery).

"We have three lines that are very capable of scoring," Murray said. "But Elynuik has to get going. He's a 30-goal scorer and he hasn't had any quality chances on net. We need

him to start coming up with big plays. Bobby is playing very responsibly away from the puck, but I need him to score goals, too."

By this time last season, the Capitals had scored 13 goals, allowed seven and won three. Tonight, they go into New Jersey having given up 13 goals while scoring 10.

Murray said there won't be any major lineup changes for the moment.


"All our top guys are in the lineup, except the ones who are injured, and that's just a matter of waiting it out and seeing how everybody is going to heal up -- and hopefully, it's sooner than later."

* Murray sat out defenseman Brad Schlegel and former Skipjacks right wing Reggie Savage on Saturday. Savage made the Capitals at the start of this season by scoring four goals in four games. But since the regular season started in Toronto on Tuesday, he has been ineffective. "What we see from him has to be the same as what we saw in camp," Murray said. "And Schlegel is not where he was last year. He's going to have to get going."