Darren Veitch, the Washington Capitals defenseman who suffered a broken collarbone in Wednesday night's 7-5 loss in Pittsburgh, will be sidelined for at least three months, team physicians said yesterday.

Veitch said he will not undergo surgery immediately, if at all. "They (the doctors) said it might be better to watch it for about a week, then X-ray it and make a decision. But they said today they don't think they'll have to operate."

He is wearing a "figure-eight" sling, which "holds the shoulders back in position to help the bone heal," he said.

Veitch was injured during the first period of the game when he tried to freeze the puck. "We had just finished a five-on-three (break) and got it (the puck) into their zone," he said. "I tried to keep the puck in and someone from the side, and someone else from the front hit me. It was not that hard a check. I got up and skated away. Maybe it was the way I was hit."

Veitch's collarbone was broken in three places. He left the game immediately, but wasn't taken to a hospital until after the second period. According to the team public relations director, Lou Corletto, no ambulance or paramedics were on duty at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena.

"Their (the Penguins) team doctor examined Darren and said he thought it was a fracture," Corletto said. "He suggested we take him to the hospital in a cab, and then he just disappeared." After a call to the city of Pittsburgh's offices, and a 25-minute wait, an ambulance arrived for Veitch.

"I've never had a broken bone before," Veitch said yesterday. "This is kind of upsetting, very upsetting. I was planning to have a good year."

Veitch had been paired with Rod Langway and had six assists. Timo Blomqvist was brought in from Hershey yesterday morning to fill his spot.

Losing Veitch was one more problem for Coach Bryan Murray. Four weeks into the hockey year, the team that was a preseason study in optimism is at the bottom of the six-team Patrick Division, with a 2-6-1 record going into Saturday's game at St. Louis.

"We're just not getting consistent play from some people we count on," Murray said. "They (Pittsburgh) came at us aggressively for about five minutes in the first period and we went down. And it seemed to roll like that all night."

Veitch, who watched part of the game, said there "may be a little mental letdown. But there shouldn't be. We did well in the preseason."

"The players may be putting extra pressure on themselves," he said. "You want to do well and you go out and try to do it all yourself. But it doesn't work. You've got to use each other."