A week ago, their hopes were soaring. The "new" Washington Capitals were eager to take on the world, at least the rest of the NHL, to show their wares.

Then reality hit. Though Washington beat the Rangers in New York in the opener, last weekend's back-to-back games against Philadelphia produced losses, 3-2 and 6-4, and a few questions going into Wednesday's game at Toronto.

In Saturday's game at Capital Centre, Coach Bryan Murray admitted his team was feeling very tight. "They had been that way for the first period in New York, but then shook it off and came out to play," he said then.

On Sunday, the Capitals showed no trace of tightness in the Spectrum, but again did not play the kind of hockey Murray expects to see.

"We played with a lot of effort, especially during the third period," Murray said Sunday night. Chris Valentine and Milan Novy had scored during that final period, cutting the Flyers' advantage to 5-4. "But a few people didn't play as well as they can."

Murray says this is no time to panic. "I'm trying to do what I have to do, keep the pressure off the players a bit, putting it on during the games," he said. "We are a much better hockey team than we were last year, but we have to work on some basic things, become more consistent."

Breakdowns in the Capitals' play, Murray said, involved "fundamentals."

"(Several times) when we had two-on-two or three-on-three situations, we didn't take the right man out, or even a man out," he said.

"There is some concern maybe, but no, there is no panic. We know anytime you play Philadelphia or the Islanders you've got tough opposition."

Murray said his team's opening victory in New York "got some people high, and they thought, well it didn't take us very long (to show what we could do). But it will take some of our guys a little time to get used to things."

Part of the Capitals' dilemma might involve getting to know one another's style on ice. "Hey, we've got guys from a lot of different teams here. It takes a while to jell with certain individuals," Dennis Maruk said.

General Manager David Poile had fretted over that very situation. "We're not a team yet, not a cohesive unit," he said yesterday. "But based on how we played three games, yes, I'm a little disappointed at the outcome, but not discouraged. There are teams that are 0-3 today. The game plan is to be somewhere on April 3," he said.

Robbie Moore, who played in goal in the third period Sunday, returned to Hershey yesterday, as did defenseman Doug Hicks, called up to replace Scott Stevens, who had influenza.