The New Jersey Devils sent Washington to its second straight loss last night, cutting off a Capitals rally with two goals in the last 6 1/2 minutes for a 6-3 victory before 15,117 at USAir Arena.
The teams will renew the battle tonight at 7:40 at the Meadowlands.
"We're just giving up our blue line and they're entering our zone under control," said Washington coach Terry Murray. "It's not a ,, matter of getting used to new players. It's simply a matter of not doing what we're supposed to do. We're allowing them to shoot the puck from the top of the circles -- too easily."
For the second time in two games the Capitals gave up six goals and more than 35 shots.
"That's not too encouraging," Murray said. "We're down 2-0, 3-0 before we start to play more competitively. Slow starts aren't any good. You can't start that way. New Jersey had three guys back all night and we never established anything."
The Capitals put pressure on their rookie goaltender, Olaf Kolzig, who faced 42 shots in his first NHL start. Murray said veteran Don Beaupre, who faced 37 shots in a 6-4 loss in Winnipeg on Wednesday, will start tonight.
Although 37 penalties were called, including 18 in the final 35 seconds, it wasn't the Devils' power plays that hurt the Capitals.
Washington killed off nine penalties, including a five-minute major against Dimitri Khristich for high sticking, but gave up all six New Jersey scores at even strength.
"Our penalty killing is a positive to take with us to New Jersey," said Capitals forward Kelly Miller. "But we're much too tentative on defense. There are some real gaps behind our forwards and that's why they're able to set it up at the top of the circles."
Murray called it "teeing it up", as if the Devils had all the time in the world to pull out a driver and go for the green. Which they did.
New Jersey walked in on Kolzig for two goals in the first period by Scott Stevens and Valeri Zelepukin.
Washington didn't score until 4:42 into the second period. That's when the Caps took advantage of a delayed penalty, pulled Kolzig off the ice in favor of a sixth attacker and scored.
Calle Johansson was able to dig the puck out from along the boards and pass to Peter Bondra near the slot. Bondra relayed the puck to Al Iafrate on the left side for a blistering slap shot and goal.
But the Devils made it 3-1 when Zelepukin unleashed a wrist shot from the slot that Kolzig just missed stopping with his right leg.
"We've got a very noticeable gap between our forwards and our defensemen," said center Dave Poulin. "It's very frustrating and at this point there is probably nothing better to do than keep on playing."
Poulin provided an impressive screen on New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur to close within 4-3 on a goal by Jason Woolley, the first of his NHL career, with 7:04 to play.
But the frustration took over after the Capitals gave up a two-on-one break and a goal to Corey Millen for a 5-3 lead at 6:10. After New Jersey's Tom Chorske made it 6-3, just 1:15 later, the game deteriorated into a brawl.
Early on, Washington killed penalty after penalty, including a five-minute high-sticking call on Khristich late in the second period.
But that didn't prevent New Jersey from scoring when both teams were at full strength.
The Devils struck in the first 26 seconds of the third to forge a 4-1 lead on an equal-strength goal by Alexander Semak.
The Capitals were able to make it 4-2 with 5:38 gone in the period, when Michal Pivonka positioned himself in front of the Devils net and banged his way to a score.
* NOTE: The Capital who got the biggest cheer during pre-game introductions last night wasn't in uniform. Center Dale Hunter, sitting out a 21-game suspension and dressed in a business suit, was greeted with foot-stomping, whistling applause.
New Jersey 2 1 3 -- 6
Washington 0 1 2 -- 3
Opponent: New Jersey Devils
Site: Meadowlands Arena, East Rutherford, N.J.
Radio: WMAL (630 AM)
TV: Channel 20
Outlook: The Caps are 0-1 on the road, having lost their opener in Winnipeg, and the Devils are 1-0 at home. Last season, the Capitals were 1-2 at the Meadowlands. Washington LW Randy Burridge (pulled groin) is day-to-day and G Rick Tabaracci (knee ligaments) is out. New Jersey G Peter Sidorkiewicz (right shoulder) and D Tommy Albelin (urinary infection) are out.