PHILADELPHIA -- As if the Washington Capitals had not had enough trouble dealing with the present, last night they were haunted by their past.
In a robust demonstration of confrontation -- and even a little bit of hockey -- the Caps were beaten, 5-3, by a Philadelphia Flyers team coached by Terry Murray.
Murray coached the Caps from 1989-90 through the first 47 games of last season. Now he is guiding a struggling Philadelphia team that can claim at least one thing: It is not struggling as much as Washington.
"It was," Murray said afterward, "just another win."
The Caps fell in a 4-0 hole after one period, then fell victim to a cantankerous group of Flyers, who, for one night at least, delighted 16,815 fans with visions of their combative past.
Included in the show was an overhand right counterpunch from winning goalie Ron Hextall to level Rob Pearson behind the Philadelphia net in the second period -- even as Pearson was leaving the ice with a fighting penalty.
Hextall and Craig Berube were ejected from the game with 0:03 left when they received five-minute match penalties, which carry possible suspensions.
More significant, Washington crumbled to 2-7-2, and is five points behind the next-to-last-place Flyers (5-7-1) in the Atlantic Division. Apparently uninspired by a crisp 1-1 tie Saturday in Boston, the Capitals remained winless (0-5-1) on the road.
Peter Bondra, Steve Konowalchuk and Joe Juneau scored for the Capitals, who paid for their sluggish play in the first 20 minutes.
"I'm all out of answers to your questions," coach Jim Schoenfeld said. "And I'm certainly out of excuses. You better get your answers from the guys who wore the red sweaters tonight. I'm out of alibis."
Capitals starting goalkeeper Rick Tabaracci never made it through the first period and was replaced by Olaf Kolzig with 2:05.
Kolzig was a distinct improvement, but hardly enough to stop the momentum of a Philadelphia team that has won its last two -- a streak of historic proportions, given the 1990s struggle of the franchise Murray is now hoping to resurrect.
The Capitals lost Dale Hunter with a bruised left knee early in the third period, which did not help. Later, bloodied defenseman Jim Johnson was rushed to the hospital with a lacerated left wrist. Schoenfeld said the Caps will ask the league to review the film of the accident, which he claims was the result of an Eric Lindros slash.
Washington was trailing 5-0 when it scored on a short-handed goal. Bondra beat Hextall on a second-period breakaway.
At 3:09 of the third, the Caps threatened to grow competitive when Konowalchuk scored his first goal of the season on a pass from Juneau. Konowalchuk was smothered by Lindros on the right wing, yet somehow managed to deflect Juneau's pass off a post and by Hextall to make it 5-2.
Even though Juneau would score on a power play at 7:28, the Konowalchuk goal was as pretty as it was too late to do much real help.
"You go down 4-0, it's tough to come back," Konowalchuk said. "We came out flat. We didn't take the body. Basically, we were standing around watching. They came out and played hard. We didn't answer the bell."
The Capitals paid for Mark Tinordi's hooking penalty when Rod Brind'Amour scored a power-play goal at 6:46 of the first. Brind'Amour, alone on the right wing, deked Tabaracci into a slide, then beat the Caps goalie to the stick side.
Seconds after Tabaracci made a highlights-film glove save of a John LeClair slap shot, the Caps fell into a 2-0 hole when Mikael Renberg scored from close to the right-wing circle. Lindros generated the chance by stealing the puck from Dave Poulin at the blue line, tipping to LeClair, who found Renberg.
By the time Tabaracci surrendered the first goal of Chris Therien's NHL career at 16:40, he was in a 3-0 hole -- and on the endangered-goalies list. When Patrik Juhlin lifted the fourth Philadelphia goal over the diving Tabaracci, Schoenfeld gave his goalie the rest of the night to rest.
On came Kolzig, officially ending what had been a most respectable run of play by Tabaracci. Tabaracci was playing in his fifth consecutive game, and had stopped 25 of 26 shots in the 1-1 tie in Boston.
Kolzig surrendered the fifth Philadelphia goal at 5:17 of the second when veteran Craig MacTavish -- signed as a free agent in the off-season -- scored his first goal as a Flyer.
The Caps attempted to rally. But it, like the season itself, was short.
"It's been tough," Konowalchuk said. "Everybody believes we are a better team than our record shows. But we have to go out and prove it."
NOTES: The Capitals will conclude their five-game road trip -- the longest of their season -- tomorrow night in New Jersey. Hunter is questionable for the game . . . Tabaracci's record is 1-3-1. . . . John Slaney and Jason Allison were Washington scratches. . . . Defenseman Ken Klee played after missing the previous six games with a separated shoulder. . . . Philadelphia leads the all-time series with Washington, 62-44-14.