The Washington Capitals squandered a two-goal lead tonight, then battled back to tie the Los Angeles Kings, 3-3, on Ken Houston's second goal of the game with 10:18 remaining.

If the result was a standoff, however, the game proved to be a loser for Washington when defenseman Darren Veitch refractured his collarbone in the third period. Veitch, checked into the boards, was playing only his third game since his collarbone was broken Oct. 27.

A power play with an inauspicious start produced the only score of the first period, as Houston reached the 20-goal mark for the sixth time in his NHL career.

It took the struggling Capitals 39 seconds to cross the red line after the Kings' Dave Lewis was chased for holding Milan Novy. Once into the Los Angeles zone, however, the Capitals passed the puck around skillfully, Dennis Maruk setting up Novy in the right-wing circle and Houston scoring off the rebound at 16:53.

Until that penalty, the Kings had dominated play, building a 12-3 edge in shots. It was 10-1 after 10 minutes and only some excellent stops by goalie Pat Riggin, starting for the second straight night, kept the Kings from scoring.

Washington's Rod Langway was penalized for interference at 1:25 and in the next 65 seconds Riggin made four saves as the puck never left the Capitals' zone. When Brian Engblom went off for cross-checking Charlie Simmer, it left the Kings with a two-man advantage for 55 seconds.

Some great work by Scott Stevens, Timo Blomqvist and Doug Jarvis stymied the Kings, with Blomqvist even firing a shot at goalie Markus Mattsson after stealing the puck in the Kings' end.

Each team scored once during a well-played second period that also saw both goaltenders come up with outstanding saves.

Bengt Gustafsson built Washington's lead to 2-0 at 3:25 as he took Maruk's pass in the slot, pivoted and lined a shot that struck Mattsson's stick and hopped into the net. It was Gustafsson's 17th goal, his 11th in 18 games since returning from a shoulder injury.

It could have become a three-goal difference, but Mattsson made a superb save to foil Alan Haworth, who shot from close range after taking another feed from Maruk. Maruk was double shifting because Bobby Carpenter was serving a major penalty for a savage brawl with Terry Ruskowski.

After Riggin blocked Dave Taylor's backhander on a breakaway set up by Marcel Dionne, Simmer came right back and struck a post, with Dionne netting the rebound at 13:14 for his 39th goal.

Mattsson made a diving stop on Gustafsson, who took Langway's pass just outside the crease, to keep it a one-goal game.

The red light came on during a third-period pileup in front of the Washington net, with several Kings hacking at the puck. Referee Ron Fournier, in perfect position at Riggin's right, ruled that the diving goalie had smothered it with his glove before it crossed the line. There was a lengthy delay while the Kings argued and some of the 14,087 fans littered the ice.

Twenty-nine seconds after play resumed, the Kings tied it officially. Jim Fox beat Riggin high on the glove side with a drive from the right-wing circle at 1:33.

The Kings took their first lead at 7:07 on a power-play goal by Simmer, with Stevens off for holding. Taylor dropped a pass to Simmer, then ran interference on Langway to free Simmer for his scoring shot from the right-wing circle.

Houston's second goal of the game made it 3-3 at 9:42. Jarvis' steal and quick pass freed Houston on a breakaway and he deked Mattsson, then flipped a backhander behind him.