The Detroit Red Wings supplied the pucks tonight and refused to let the Washington Capitals play with them.

The Wings looked like a bunch of big kids taunting the little guys in a game of keepaway as they breezed to a 4-1 victory and opened a five-point margin over Washington.

Dennis Maruk made his first appearance for the Capitals since Oct. 27 and his presence figured to give the team a lift. Instead, the Capitals seemed just as flat as in their sleepwalking 3-0 loss to Atlanta a week ago.

"I guess their backs were to the wall and maybe our playing six games in 10 nights with all the travel had something to do with it," said Washington Coach Gary Green. "We definitely weren't skating the way we're capable of skating, we were not taking the body and we were not hitting the way we can."

That covered the deficiencies. In effect, the Capitals did nothing. Now they are faced with a Saturday night contest in Montreal against a team that has to be slavering for revenge after that 3-1 shocker at Capital Centre.

"This was an important game for us and now we just have to go to Montreal and get the two points off them," said Green, ever the optimist "We need two points on this trip and we didn't get them here, so we'll have to get them there. We were flat in Atlanta and came back strong. I'm confident we can do the same thing Saturday."

Detroit got an early break as Reed Larson flubbed a slap shot, only to have Dan Labraaten jump on the dribbling puck in the slot and blast it past goalie Wayne Stephenson at 2:36.

Referee Bryan Lewis, who had declined to whistle some flagrant early fouls, made Washington's Alan Hangsleben his first sinner of the night and Detroit capitalized for a 2-0 lead as Larson's drive caromed in off Willie Huber's pants.

Hangsleben was sent off for interference, an impossible call, since the man he nailed was puck-carrier Larson, to even up for a solid check by Larson moments earlier. Larson, in falling, took goalie Jim Rutherford down with him and Washington was faced with an open net, to be closed by Lewis' whistle.

"I don't think he saw the play," Hangsleben said. "He must have thought I went into the goalie."

Bob Sirois stole the puck from Detroit's George Lyle and scored from the slot at the 26-second mark of the second period to give Washington some hope. Larson, however, broke down the middle and beat Stephenson with a backhander from the left-wing circle three minutes later.

The Wings then dominated 36 minutes of scoreless play before Tommie Bergman closed the scoring with an empty-net goal.

Stephenson, who stopped 33 shots, made some excellent saves down the stretch. There was concern late in the game when Detroit's Mike Foligno crashed into him and Stephenson lay stunned while three shots whizzed by before Lewis halted play.

"I'm okay," Stephenson said. "His skate must have hit the top of my mask, because the mask banged into my head. I never did know where the puck was."

Maruk obviously was rusty and Green gave him limited ice time. The main thing was that Maruk's right knee, which went under the knife Nov.1, held up under some solid hits, particularly from Barry Long in the final period.

"I felt pretty good, but it's been a long time," Maruk said. "The first few shifts I was standing around, then I got back into the flow. I was surprised I played so much."

Part of the reason for Maruk's early return was the absence of Rolf Edberg, who sufferd a groin pull Tuesday. Rick Green was back on defense, too, after a two-game absence with a bruised knee.

"I didn't expect anything from Dennis other than to get him going and help him get his timing back," Coach Green said."People will have to be patient. He's not going to start having four-point games right away."

Considering the sorry play of his team, which was outshot, 37-18, and barely edged Larson in shots by 9-6 over the first two periods, Green was remarkably patient.

"We couldn't get on top of them forechecking," Green said. "They moved the puck extremely quick and it always seemed to wind up on their sticks. It was bouncing over our sticks all night."