If it seems the Washington Capitals have been in this situation before, it's because they have. Three days ago.

For the second time in three days, the Capitals defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins last night, a 7-2 game that extended the Penguins' winless streak to 11.

The Capitals scored three goals in each of the first two periods and added a single in the third as they moved within one point of the second-place New York Islanders in the Patrick Division. Both Pittsburgh goals came in the first period.

This game looked remarkably like the one played in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, with both clubs doing a lot of clutching and grabbing during the last two periods. But this time, the Capitals didn't take a long nap after the first 20 minutes. Washington took a quick two-goal lead, one by Craig Laughlin and the other seven seconds later by Bengt Gustafsson, bettering the team record for the fastest pair of goals by one second.

Bob Gould added one on a backhand pass from Glen Currie at 7:47. But then the Penguins got back into the game, on goals by Mike Bullard and Randy Boyd, shrinking the Capitals' 3-0 edge to a 3-2 squeak.

"I was quiet and calm (in the dressing room) after that period," Coach Bryan Murray said. "I just indicated we had to play with more intensity and to improve our work habits. We did to some extent. But we still didn't create much. We didn't play that well for 10 minutes in the third."

Rod Langway, who had three assists, said, "We had a good meeting after the first. Bryan didn't say much, but some players did. We'd had a three-goal lead and then all of a sudden, they've got two. Pat (Riggin) passed right to him (Bullard) and the other was a pass right up the middle.We can't give them a break like that."

For awhile in the middle period, it seemed the Capitals would continue handing Pittsburgh breaks. Washington skated out flat, moving end to end with no results until Doug Jarvis turned the play about midway through.

Taking a pass from Langway, at the point, Jarvis sailed in on Michel Dion and swept the puck into the Pittsburgh net at 10:25. Thirty-three seconds later, Mike Gartner got his 299th point as a Capital, tumbling to the ice on a trip by Boyd. Ken Houston added another at 12:17 to give the Capitals a 6-2 second period lead.

Alan Haworth scored the seventh Capitals goal on a power play at 6:58 of the third period.

"Before that, they had plenty of chances to get even," Langway said. "But then our penalty killing kept us in the game, and helped us win it."

There were plenty of penalties to kill. The Pittsburgh players, clearly frustrated at their inability to generate anything, spent most of the night talking to the opposition.

Bennett Wolf, who had brandished his stick constantly, broke it over Dennis Maruk's back at the five minute mark of the third and called Maruk a name.

"I felt the stick and I had only one thing on my mind," Maruk said. "I guess they were frustrated. But I didn't pay any attention to anyone but him."

Indeed, Maruk appeared to go wild after the cross check, and players from both teams milled around. A water jug that landed on the ice was originally directed at Murray.

"He missed me," Murray said, referring to Penguin assistant coach Mike Corrigan. "Then it went out onto the ice."

Corrigan left the ice, the Penguins earned a bench minor and both Randy Holt and Paul Baxter were given 10-minute misconducts.

"Baxter was talking, Randy stepped on the ice and he got it." Murray said. Asked if he thought stricter officiating by Bruce Hood would have kept the game under control, Murray said, "I guess in a 7-2 hockey game, with all that clutch and grab stuff, you can't call everything so you don't call anything."

Murray deliberately kept Langway and Laughlin off the ice through most of the final period, resting them for tonight's game in Montreal. Ken Houston, who score the sixth Capitals goal at 12:17 of the last period, played a stint on defense.

"He was drafted as a defenseman out of juniors," Murray said. "I've been waiting for a chance to put him in there."