Those members of the Washington Capitals who stayed at home were the big winners in tonight's exhibition game against the Hartford Whalers.

With former Capitals Dean Evason and Torrie Robertson scoring goals and Mike Liut and Steve Weeks providing flawless goaltending, the Whalers breezed to a 5-0 victory that was so casually managed it proved embarrassing to the Capitals, the objects of jeers from the crowd of 2,214.

The fans were in a rebellious mood, anyway, since the game started 55 minutes late. The Whalers were just arriving at the scheduled starting time of 7:35, their charter flight from Hartford having been delayed at its origination in Long Island, causing the team to endure a 3 1/2-hour wait at the airport.

If the Whalers were frustrated, the Capitals became more so. After fidgeting in their dressing room for an eternity, they were further frustrated by Liut.

That worthy, who blanked Washington in the teams' concluding regular-season meeting in April, stopped 23 shots in 30 minutes tonight. Behind, 3-0, at that stage, the disheartened Capitals tested Weeks only five times the rest of the night.

"With the lineup we had, we didn't expect great things, but I would have liked to see a little better effort from some of our guys who had played well in camp," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray, who watched this one from the stands while brother Terry handled the bench duties.

"The delay just added to our problems. You get ready to play emotionally and then you wait and wait and as a result you come out flat. A lot of our guys didn't have the spark you'd expect from somebody trying to make the team."

A spectator along with Murray was left wing Bengt Gustafsson, whose custom-fitted knee brace inadvertently was left in Washington. He tried one shift with a borrowed brace that proved uncomfortable and retired for the night. Since he was one of only six surefire regulars in action, his absence was significant.

"We limited ourselves on the blueline to begin with, but with Gus we at least had one solid line," Bryan Murray said. "With him out and (defenseman) Marc Chorney playing left wing, Hartford was just too much of a match for our guys."

Although the Capitals outshot Hartford by 28-26, Washington goalie Pat Riggin had the tougher shots in his 30-minute stretch, giving up three goals in 16 attempts. On Washington's best chances, Bryan Erickson and Mark Taylor shot into Liut's pads from close range.

The Whalers went ahead to stay midway through the first period when Bob Crawford slipped behind rookie defenseman Grant Jennings, took Robertson's pass and beat a helpless Riggin.

Less than two minutes later, Evason scored a spectacular short-handed goal. First he blocked a shot at the right point by Yves Beaudoin. The Capitals' other point man, Daryl Evans, retrieved the puck but lost it to Dave Tippett, who fed Evason alone in front for the score.

Hartford added two power play goals in the second period for a 4-0 lead. Washington had a manpower advantage erased when Evans tripped Kevin Dineen and Evans was still off as Robertson scored on a rebound.

Washington defenseman Timo Blomqvist was caught throwing Ron Francis to the ice and Francis gained his revenge by scoring from the right point on the first shot faced by relief goalie Bob Mason.

Mason made only one save before he was beaten again, by Joel Quenneville early in the third period. By that stage, both teams already were looking ahead to Friday's rematch in Hartford. The Capitals will be flying in some reinforcements for that one.