The flu-stricken Washington Capitals could use a quick dose of a potion more potent than aspirin to bounce them back into the hockey season.

Most players have been struggling with a virus that hit right around last week's home opener against Philadelphia. Coach Bryan Murray conceded yesterday that the flu was a "mental factor" in the team's 9-2 loss against previously winless Buffalo.

"We looked around the dressing room and saw a few guys who were not in good shape," Murray said. "You get to the point where you say, how can we win in this condition? And they went out conceding those two points (to the Sabres)."

Murray says his team's illness has not been formally diagnosed as anything more than an upper respiratory ailment. "They say it's a time-period kind of thing -- if you have a sore throat, you can get some penicillin-type pills, but generally, you have to let it go its course," he said.

"Today (Monday) everybody was pretty much back on the ice (in practice). Some were pretty tired by the end, but by Wednesday (against Montreal at Capital Centre), if we're fortunate, we should have most everyone looking better."

The Capitals' flu begins with a fever and leaves the players leg-weary and unable to eat. It took the heaviest toll on defenseman Brian Engblom, who lost 10 pounds and Bengt Gustafsson, who dropped seven. "They both know it'll take a few days to get back. They couldn't eat at all, because you can't keep anything down," Murray said. "Gus played on Saturday and really struggled. You've got to appreciate the fact that it had a major effect on him."

Coming back from a day off Sunday, the Capitals skated into yesterday's practice session aware that Murray wants all of them going full throttle in both practice and games.

"All I indicated today is that I hope everybody's over this thing. There are 75 games left. Yes, that was a dreadful game Saturday, but we have enough going for us that we can be a very competitive team, if we get into the habit of working to full capacity," he said.

"We're not totally as good as we're going to be. The guys were down after the Buffalo game, because I made them feel that way. We could harp about it and be negative, but better to just learn from it . . . Over the season, there could be a few more nights you'll shake your head and wonder."

Asked about the fans booing at Capital Centre, Murray said, "I guess that's the way it's going to be if we don't play well. We weren't on top of our game. That's when you wish you could take the fans into the dressing room and show them the kind of shape these guys were in."

General Manager David Poile said he would "give everyone the benefit of the doubt about Saturday and say the flu took its toll. That was our first game of 13 (including preseason) in which we weren't competitive. But now we're okay. Today was the first practice where we've had a healthy squad in maybe 10 days.

"And all we did was lose two points."