Their power play was powerless, the soft ice was no help, but the Washington Capitals came away with two points against the Pittsburgh Penguins last night, defeating their Patrick Division rivals, 6-3.

"It wasn't a masterpiece," Coach Bryan Murray said, understating a too-long evening at Capital Centre, with 14,213 customers present. "But what I liked tonight was, we got the two points. One game is a long enough losing streak anytime."

Washington, making it 15 of its last 16 games unbeaten, moved within two points of the division-leading New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers, both of whom were idle last night.

Washington took a 1-0 lead on Ken Houston's drive up the middle at 5:28 of the first period. Thanks to Randy Carlyle's giving away the puck in the Pittsburgh zone, Alan Haworth was set up by Doug Jarvis and Craig Laughlin for his goal three minutes later.

Pittsburgh scored the next two, Paul Baxter's long shot from the blueline in the second period and Andre St. Laurent's breakaway 16 seconds into the final period. Bob Gould put Washington back ahead, assisted by Duchesne.

Then Rick Kehoe tied the game at 3-3, but the Capitals, who had been sleepwalking earlier, woke up in time to take it out of Pittsburgh's reach on goals by Glen Currie, Gaetan Duchesne and Houston again.

"To come back, after giving away the tying goal in the third period, we were working extra hard," Murray said. "And that Currie line (Currie, Gould, Duchesne) played very, very well."

That line had more chances to strut its stuff due to some bad luck for other Capitals. Bengt Gustafsson, skating in on Denis Herron in the first period, went sprawling over the prone goalie and crashed into the corner boards, bruising his shoulder. Milan Novy twisted his left ankle during the second period and Jarvis, slashed in the ankle, played only faceoffs late in the game.

"We did a lot of ad-libbing in the latter part of the game," Murray said. "We couldn't do the things we wanted with the other lines."

Gould, who broke in on Herron thanks to a quick pass from Duchesne, sent the puck flying into the Pittsburgh net at 2:02 of the third. "In the last period, we dumped it into their zone," he said. "We were really frustrated earlier, but that's our game: get back. And Kid (Currie) made those two goals, his and the one to Gaets (Duchesne). Kid did it."

Both teams played less than superb hockey. Each team had five penalties in the opening period, three of Washington's going to Mike Gartner. High-sticked by St. Laurent, he let go a left hook and drew high-sticking, slashing and fighting calls at 10:39.

The Capitals' power play, which was one for eight, caused Murray to joke, "I don't believe in Santa. I didn't get what I asked for (a working power play)."

Then he said, "I think Pittsburgh's is a very fine power play and we stopped it (the Penguins were zero for four), so I guess in the gamble, with a lot of pressures, we did hold our cool pretty well."

Currie's goal was the sort that he'll probably want to watch on videotape for future inspiration. Taking the puck from Gould inside the Capitals' zone, he streaked off. He glanced over his shoulder once before slapping it hard into the top of the Penguins net at 7:52.

Then he teamed with Duchesne for insurance. "I see the puck at the blueline," Duchesne said later. "He (Currie) got the puck and had no stick, so I took it and made a push.

"Tonight our line just came together . . . "

The ice, which the Flyers' Bobby Clarke had likened to quicksand on Sunday night, didn't seem much better last night.

"Yeah, it's not good," Duchesne said. "But we win the game. I don't say nothing."