LANDOVER — LANDOVER -- The Washington Capitals proved they might have the best penalty killers in the NHL, but they showed in their home opener at USAir Arena they still have a lot of work to do five-on-five.
The New Jersey Devils sent Washington to its second straight loss last night, cutting off a Caps rally with two goals in the last six minutes for a 6-3 victory before 15,117.
Washington used an impressive screen by center Dave Poulin 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 as the Capitals pressed for a tie, the Devils burst out for a two-on-one break, and Corey Millen scored for a 5-3 lead at 6:10. Then, just 1:15 later, the Devils' Tom Chorske made it 6-3.
In the final minutes the game deteriorated into a brawl, with the Devils' Mike Teluso and Millen and the Capitals' Craig Berube, Enrico Ciccone, Keith Acton, Kevin Hatcher and Alan May all being sent off the ice for fighting, instigating a fight or participating in one.
The Capitals had killed penalty after penalty, included a jTC five-minute high-sticking call on Dimitri 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 made 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.
New Jersey's Jason Smith was called for roughing at the same time, but the Caps were unable to make it pay off.
Capitals rookie Olaf Kolzig gave up two goals in the first period, but it was more the fault of his defensemen than it was his.
With just 2:24 gone, Scott Stevens shook loose from Hatcher and found an opening in the right circle, out of reach of the closing Calle Johansson. Stevens swung his stick and blasted a shot past Kolzig for a 1-0 lead.
Washington killed three penalties before seeing the score rise to 2-0 while playing five-on-five with 5:11 left.
Valeri Zelepukin got the puck from Jaroslav Modry in his own zone and then skated up ice. Capitals defenseman Ciccone tried to cut him off near the Washington blue line, but Zelepukin deked past him.
Ciccone grabbed the Devil's waist, trying to slow him until help arrived. But help didn't come, and Zelepukin showed his strength by continuing to skate toward the net. Once there, he swung his body around in front of the net, and shoveled the puck between Kolzig's legs.
The Caps' best scoring chance came just before the end of the period while on a power play, when Khristich passed cross ice to an attacking Peter Bondra, but Bondra, wide open, could not control the puck.
It wasn't until 4:42 into the second period that Washington scored finally got on the scoreboard. While taking advantage of a delay penalty on the Devils' Bobby Holik, Kolzig skated off the ice, giving the Caps a 6-on-5 advantage that worked when Johansson was able to dig the puck out from along the boards, and pass to Bondra near the slot. Bondra, in turn, relayed the puck to Al Iafrate on the left side for a blistering slap shot that was all net.
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.
At the end of the second period, Khristich was called for a five-minute penalty and given a game misconduct, when officials judged he high-sticked Millen and caused his nose to bleed.
Replays showed the stick that damaged Millen was that of his teammate, Bruce Driver, but replays are not used in settling penalty disputes and Khristich was ousted. The Capitals killed the penalty.
The Devils controlled much of the play in the first period, outshooting the Caps, 14-5, at one point, before Washington finally got off a few shots in the closing minutes to close to 16-9. By the end of the second, New Jersey was still in charge, 30-16.
NOTES: 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, whistle-loving applause. . . . When the Caps and Devils met in fighting scrums last night, the people in charge of the music played the Looney Toones theme song.
Opponent: New Jersey Devils
Site: Meadowlands Arena, East Rutherford, N.J.
Time: 7:35 p.m.
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.