A mixup in travel arrangements almost caused the Washington Capitals to miss their flight this morning. It might have been better if they had.

The Pittsburgh Penguins outskated the Captials from start to finish tonight and breezed to a 5-1 victory. Most of the goals resulted from Washington giveaways, the Capitals appearing even more mixed up than their itinerary.

Scheduled to leave from Baltimore-Washington International, the Capitals instead were forced to rush at the last minute to National Airport and another flight. They made it, which marked their only successful rush of the day.

The Penguins enjoyed a 42-23 advantage in shots and Washington goalie Wayne Stephenson was faced with frequent breakaways, the first coming when Orest Kindrachuk broke past defender Robert Picard only 25 seconds into the game.

Stephenson stopped that one, but Kindrachuk, the Penguins' "O.k. Captain," scored twice before the first period ended, taking advantage of Pete Scamurra's hesitation and Bob Sirois' inability to handle a Rick Green pass. Rod Schutt capitalized on George Ferguson's steal from Bengt Gustafsson and it was 3-0 when the period ended.

"I thought we came out pretty well prepared and for 10 minutes we were doing all right, paying attention to the forechecking and positional play we talked about," said Coach Danny Belisle. "Then one guy makes a bad pass and everything breaks down.

"Their goals resulted from fundamental mistakes, not that we're being outplayed. We had the puck and some of our better players were giving it away and eventually we got burned."

Randy Carlyle and Paul Marshall padded the Pittsburgh margin in the second period before Sirois netted his first goal of the season to ruin rookie Rob Holland's bid for a shutout in his third NHL game.

Sirois had little to celbrate, since he was forced to leave in the final period with a strained muscle in his back. He is doubtful for the Capitals' West Coast trip that opens Wednesday in Los Angeles.

The Capitals started the game without center Guy Charron, pulled thigh muscle; right wing Mike Gartner, severe charley horse; defenseman Leif Svensson, bruised hip, and defenseman Pierre Bouchard, groin pull. Charron had played 245 straight games as a Capital, 274 overall.

Also absent by game's end was right wing Tom Rowe, who was chased with 6 1/2 minutes left for challenging benchbound Greg Malone of the Penguins to a fight.

"I challenged him, but he stood up and didn't leave the bench," Rowe said. "He wasn't about to come out there. We've got Gus (Gustafsson) out there, a guy who will score 40 goals a year for us, and Malone was punching him in the back of the head and giving him the stick.

"When Ryan (Walter) was out there, Malone didn't go near him. Gus is a valuable asset to this club, you can't let a guy like that push him around. Some guys try to push everybody around, but Malone just picked on Gus. That's what made me so mad."

With so many players out, Belisle was forced to juggle his lines and used 13 different units during the contest. He was aided a bit by the NHL debut of Finnish winger Antero Lehtonen, who broke a finger in training camp.

"Injuries are playing an awful factor," Belisle said. "It's not just that guys are missing, but all the juggling that's involved. I had to rearrange my lines in midstream."