The defense decided to shine instead of struggle.

Depleted by more injuries than the Capitals have suffered previously all season, Washington's defense could have experienced a long, long night chasing the Flyers. Instead, the mostly makeshift bunch controlled Philadelphia with efficiency to spare.

"When you give up only two goals, one at the start of the first and second periods, you've shut them down pretty well," Coach Bryan Murray said. "And the way these guys played tonight, they'll push a few people when the others come back."

"These guys" are Paul MacKinnon, who was called up from Hershey for Thursday's game with the New York Rangers; Greg Theberge, who played one of his best games this season, and Ken Houston, a last-minute substitute on defense when Randy Holt was ejected with a game misconduct.

Rod Langway, the mainstay of the unit, played his usual nonstop game, coming off the ice barely long enough for a swallow of water.

With regulars Brian Engblom, Scott Stevens and Timo Blomqvist injured and out of action, Murray had wondered briefly how his players would do against the league's hottest team, but expressed confidence in the next breath, saying, "Sometimes when you're down, I find your personnel will dig a little deeper, and come through for you with some real value."

MacKinnon's value included a goal of his own and an assist on one by Dennis Maruk. "I just wanted to play within my limits," he said later, tugging at a knotted skate lace. "I just tried not to get into any trouble. The Flyers work like crazy, coming at you for 60 minutes. I realized the importance of this game, and I just wanted to do my best."

MacKinnon hadn't expected a power play goal as part of his best, but there it was in the second period. "I just looked to move the puck, and it just seemed that on that shift, the middle was wide open. I had a tough time handling it the first time, then Mike (Gartner) saw an opening, and I got it again," he said.

Theberge played a solid defensive game, looking confident throughout three periods. "I just needed the confidence, and Bryan (Murray) displayed it," he said. "The team played well, and I think I played well tonight."

Houston scored no goals, but half jokingly said he would take all responsibility for the Flyers' last goal, with eight seconds remaining.

"We all fell asleep on that one," Murray said. "Everyone was alseep." But he praised Houston's performance. "He really did okay back there, except when he tries to be Bobby Orr."

If he did try, maybe it's more than wishful thinking. "It brought back some memories. I've played defense all my life," he said. "I was drafted as a defenseman, played two years back there until someone decided I could skate well enough to become a forward."

Based upon last night's defensive performance, Murray said, "The way these guys played, I've got to go with them in the future. It's kind of nice to know I've got six people I can count on defensively."