A crowd of 17,704 welcomed the Washington Capitals in their home opener last night but the night belonged to the Philadelphia Flyers, who skated off with a 3-2 victory.

"Maybe we were just too conservative at times," said the Capitals' Mike Gartner. "We got in on their defense, but maybe we were just a step too slow, just hesitating that one extra stride."

The Capitals, who lost for the first time after a season-opening victory against the Rangers in New York, began the night with a 1-0 edge on the Flyers. Dennis Maruk scored four seconds after the expiration of a Philadelphia penalty at 11:05 of the first period, the result of some diligent forechecking by Washington. But the Flyers retaliated with a power play goal by Mike Allison less than four minutes later and took a 3-1 lead on goals by Darryl Sittler, in the second period, and Brian Propp, who got the game-winner 4:43 into the final period.

With a minute remaining, Washington goalie Pat Riggin skated to the bench in favor of a sixth skater. Sometimes this bit of strategy works, giving a fallen-behind club a shot at a tie. In Washington's case, it needed two.

The Capitals got the first one -- Gartner was set up by Milan Novy and Rod Langway and tucked the puck behind Rick St. Croix at 19:39 -- but the Flyers didn't give the Capitals another chance.

"We're a much better offensive team than that," said Coach Bryan Murray. "We just didn't play the way we had been. We gave the puck away and they gobbled it up."

Two near-goals could have made the difference for the Capitals. A shot by Maruk during the second period was ruled no goal because play had been whistled dead when St. Croix fell to the ice to smother the puck, which then trickled over the line. The goal would have knotted the score at 2-2.

In the third period, Bobby Carpenter skated into the Philadelphia zone, shooting the puck cleanly from the blueline. This time his teammates did a little dance of celebration before a public address announcement robbed the fans of their joy. Offsides, the officials had ruled, although no TelScreen replay of Carpenter's move was shown.

Forty-three seconds after Carpenter's nongoal, Propp gave the Flyers an insurance score, which, it turned out, they needed. Weaving in and out of Capitals, he took a pass from Paul Holmgren and tapped it past Riggin, giving the Flyers a 3-1 lead.

"Neither of those goals (that didn't count) were really worth arguing about, were they?" Riggin said later. "Maybe the offsides one. We could have had six or seven tonight easily."

The Capitals had played tight and nervous during the early part of that game. "Tonight I thought we were very tight and just never got over it the way we did in New York," Murray said. "We didn't move the puck well at all."

Doug Jarvis, the do-everything center who came from Montreal in the big trade, played in his 562nd straight regular-season game tonight, but, according to Murray, Jarvis was "very sick."

"He had a temperature of 102 degrees," he said. "He's one of the people we were counting on very much this season and he couldn't do much tonight."

Philadelphia, which always features a rough-and-tumble game, was predictably physical, but not nearly as nasty as Flyer teams can be. Some scuffles, featuring Bobby Clarke versus Maruk, Clarke versus Ken Houston and Scott Stevens versus Leslie Carson reminded the fans that this was Philadelphia, after all.

What will the Capitals do differently tonight when they face the Flyers in the Spectrum? "Now that this is (first home game) over with, maybe we can settle down and start playing the way we can," Murray said.

Capitals goalie Dave Parro still is nursing a bruised left shoulder. He didn't dress tonight and says he probably won't be able to play until next week.