In an 80-game hockey season, every team can expect to play a few awful games. This was one of those nights for the Washington Capitals.

The Quebec Nordiques, who had won only two games this season, thrashed the Capitals, 6-2 ending Washington's unbeaten streak at four games.

In the process, the Nordiques shackled Capital center Dennis Maruk, who had collected goals in six straight periods and points in 10 straight games. Maruk had two excellent scoring chances in the first period, but Quebec goalie Michel Plasse, a castoff from Colorado, made one brilliant save with his right leg and another with the toe of his left boot.

"He made the big saves; when it was close, we couldn't score on him," Maruk said. "It was all downhill after that. Sometimes a goalie gets hot after a bad night like he had Sunday and comes back after that."

Ryan Walter scored both Washington goals, the second with 1:18 to play. He also had two good opportunities in the first period, when Plasse blocked 14 shots while his mates were grabbing a 1-0 lead.

"He played very well, maybe unconscius," Walter said. "That was a big part of the game. We didn't get a chance to get on the board early. But they played well, give them credit."

Coach Gary Green, who dearly wanted to beat his old foe, Quebec Coach Michel Bergeron, was very niggardly about dispensing credit to the opposition.

"I don't care if it was a one-goal game or a two-goal game most of the way, we were never in it," Green said. "We couldn't make a pass, we couldn't accept a pass. We didn't hit. It was just a dull, lifeless effort on our part.

"I have no excuses. There isn't a player in that dressing room that played well tonight. Usually, there are at least a few you can point to, even in a one-sided game, who put out the effort.

"I'm not going to cover up their inadequacies. We win together and we lose together. They played poorly and they deserved to lose. Quebec didn't even apply any pressure in our end zone. They just played well enough to take advantage of our mistakes. They just walked in and scored. That's as poor as we played that night in Chicago."

It was in Chicago on Oct. 19 that the Capitals, now 5-6-7, were beaten, 8-4, the only other time they have lost by more than one goal or an empty net-assisted two.

Quebec's Marc Tardif opened the scoring on a power play, after Jacques Richard's wide shot caromed back from the end boards just far enough for Tardif to slip the puck between goalie Wayne Stephenson and the post at his left.

Early in the second period, Jamie Hislop connected on a two-on-one break with Peter Stastny, one of many such breaks the Nordiques were able to launch against a Washington team that had been adept at avoiding them all season.

After Walter trimmed the deficit to 2-1, Richard golfed a shot from the right-wing circle that Stephenson barely moved on.

"I didn't pick it up until it was in front of my hand," Stephenson said. "I don't know why."

It was still 3-1 with eight minutes left. Then Anton Stastny, Peter's brother, took a shot that Stephenson stopped. The goalie, however, tried to clear the puck and it hit Stastny and caromed back into the net.

Michel Goulet and Richie Leduc padded the score as the Nordiques raced through and around the Capitals the rest of the way.

While Maruk's streak was evaporating, Peter Stastny, the more skilled of the expatriate Slovaks, was extending his club record to 11 games in which he has scored at least one point.

Washington's Jean Pronovost was assessed a roughing minor after he was checked by Dale Hunter and batted referee Bruce Hood's hand off his jersey as Hood pushed him away from a developing fracas.

"It was just frustration, probably," said Pronovost, who was checked hard just before the finish and complained of a "fuzzy" feeling in his head.

It was a night of frustration for all the Capitals.