Still struggling to create a bright new image, the Washington Capitals saw their record fall to 2-6-1 tonight when they lost, 7-5, to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

As if that wasn't enough bad news for one night, defenseman Darren Veitch, checked into the boards early in the game, broke his collarbone in three places, putting him out of action indefinitely. "It's going to require surgery. It looks like he'll be out quite a while," said Coach Bryan Murray.

"It's nobody's fault, it's a team thing," Mike Gartner, who scored two power-play goals, said of the defeat. "But you can't go on 50 percent effort, and that's what we had tonight."

The Capitals scored first, on Dennis Maruk's power play shot at 2:58 of the first period. But that lead lasted only briefly. The Penguins came back with three goals, two within 16 seconds, to take a 3-1 lead.

Washington came on early in the second period to tie the game on Alan Haworth's first goal of the season, but after that, Pittsburgh built up its lead and stayed in front of the Capitals for good.

Four of the Penguins' goals came on power plays; Washington had just as many, but Gartner said, "How can you give up that many power-play goals and win? That's the problem."

Murray, visibly distressed, said, "That's a team we have to beat. Anytime you can get five goals on (Michel) Dion in this building, you should be able to win, but to give up seven . . . "

Murray's team seemed to have some momentum after the first period, when the Capitals forced their way back from the 3-1 deficit. Craig Laughlin's goal, a power-play shot, began as a rebound by Gartner. Gartner shot, the puck came out and landed at Laughlin's feet. He swung at it and connected at 4:57. Then Haworth took the puck from Gartner at the blueline, cut through the Penguin defense and hit it upward into the top of the net for a 3-3 tie.

But the Penguins kept on coming. "I didn't see any of those goals in the second period," goalie Dave Parro said later. "They all worked hard, they mucked it up. What can I say? You can't give away power play goals like that."

Murray said, "I don't know how many shots (on goal) they got credit for (31), but there were maybe 15 decent ones."

Washington had 39 shots on goal, but Dion, clutching, grabbing and falling on his face, literally, kept the Capitals frustrated.

Pat Boutette had three goals for Pittsburgh, including the empty net one with 52 seconds on the clock and Washington, a goal away at 6-5, desperate to tie it up. Parro blamed himself for Boutette's second goal, in the middle period, which came from Hotham and MacLeish.

"He just took it and hit it," Parro said. Boutette simply shot the puck at Parro's knees, and the goaltender dropped too late to stop it.

Twenty penalties were assessed in the game. "Yes, we took some penalties, and sometimes we took (out) the wrong man," Murray said, still searching for a diplomatic way to describe his team's listless performance. "We've worked so hard in practice, but there are some people who are just not consistent yet."

He declined to elaborate, but added, "The same guys are the ones who always work hard."

Gartner agreed, saying, "When we give the effort, we're good. We've got talent on this team but not enough to float through a game."

Pittsburgh's mucking, here-we-come-again style seemed to thoroughly stymie the Capitals, who couldn't put together an aggressive enough approach to battle back. "Some of them (Capitals) looked scared," Murray said reluctantly.

Were the Penguins (3-6-1) really so much the better team? "Even if they're not that good, they were better than us tonight," said Gartner. "That's all that counts."