The Washington Capitals do not play again until Wednesday, which should give Coach Danny Belisle ample time to drill his hockey club on the fine art of scoring on breakaways.

The Caps' inability to produce points, even when bursting in free on Los Angeles rookie goalie Mario Lessard Saturday night, contributed greatly to their 5-1 defeat. And Belisle couldn't believe what he saw.

"There are no excuses, no excuses for missing all those shots," said Belisle. "We score once or twice and we could have changed the whole game around.

"Lessard played well, no question, but we had our chances. Then we let down for a couple of minutes and the game is over."

That letdown came with four minutes left in the second period, during which the King's scored three quick goals to break open the game. Before then, however, Washington had four - that's right, four - partial or full breakaways and were denied each time by the acrobatic Lessard, who was playing only his second game in the National Hockey League.

Washington's only goal was scored by rookie Ryan Walter, his first in the NHL. He had been activated only Wednesday after recovering from knee surgery. It gave Washington a 1-0 first-period lead.

But Belisle could only remember the opportunitites missed by his club:

With the Caps shorthanded in the opening minute of the game, Bob Girard broke behind the Kings' defense, but Lessard easily smothered a weak shot.

Moments later Bob Sirois had an unmolested chance, but flipped the puck right to Lessard.

Michel Bergeron was sent in alone on Lessard off the opening face-off of the second period. Bergeron had plenty of time to think about what to do - he was free from the blueline in - but again, Lessard did not have to leave his feet to make the save.

Robert Picard caught the Kings on a line change later in the period and waltzed through their defense toward Lessard, who dashed out of the net and slid toward the puck at the left face-off circle. Picard never got off a shot before losing possession to the Kings' goalie.

What proved to be the Kings' winning goal came right after the Caps mounted another frenzied assault on Lessard, who was forced to make 30 saves on the night.

Sirois, who had nine shots in the game, was trying to get off an attempt when he was driven from the puck and the Kings launched a three-on-two assault against goalie Jim Bedard. Bob Murdoch beat Bedard on a quick shot from the right circle and Los Angeles took control of the game.

"We still aren't getting consistent goaltending," said Belisle. "No knock on Jimmy, but we can't be good one time and bad the next.

"Their guy was good, but we made him look good, too. We score and no one would be raving about him."

But the Caps didn't score and Lessard is being hailed as a new savior of Kings' hockey. He registered a shutout Thursday in his first NHL appearance and won a permanent spot on the roster Saturday night.

"I think he won the respect of his teammates with this one," said Los Angeles Coach Bob Berry. "He made every big save we had to have. They scored on a few of those breakaways and you never know what would have happened."

The Caps received a scare late in the game when Picard slammed into a goalpost late in the third period and was dazed and shaken from the collision. But he returned later.

With Pittsburgh losing, the Caps had a chance to move into a third-place tie with Los Angeles in the Norris Division. Instead, they remain knotted with the Penguins and haunted by all those missed breakaways.