The Washington Capitals' special teams continue to be anything but special. Futile once again on the power play and yielding two extra-man goals to the Hartford Whalers, the Capitals dropped a 3-2 NHL exhibition decision tonight.

Despite the misery of a one-for-29 power play while winning just one of five preseason games, the Capitals at least have an excuse. They have not practiced the maneuver during training camp.

The penalty killing, penetrated nine times in 29 opportunities, is something else. Most of the players involved have teamed in the past and it is apparent that management has not yet been able to figure out why Washington fell, last season, from the NHL's best to 14th place.

If the Capitals continue to pile up penalties the way they did again tonight, when they were assessed 13 to Hartford's nine, they had better uncover a solution.

The Whalers built a 3-0 lead, with Torrie Robertson and Paul MacDermid scoring in extra-man situations, before Gaetan Duchesne finally scored against goaltender Mike Liut. Duchesne deflected Peter Andersson's shot past Liut at 9:08 of the second period, less than a minute before Liut was replaced by Steve Weeks. It ended Liut's shutout streak of 118 minutes 53 seconds against Washington since he arrived in Hartford in March.

Doug Jarvis converted Duchesne's pass to beat Weeks early in the third period and Washington applied considerable pressure the rest of the way without scoring.

Al Jensen went the distance in the Washington nets and made some outstanding saves in a total of 25. It was a tough night physically for Jensen, who was shaken up on three occasions and frequently found Whalers skating in on him with minimal deterrent from a defense that was playing without Rod Langway.

Late in the first period, Jensen was struck below the belt by a Ray Neufeld drive from the slot. Then, in the second period, he was pummeled twice during a Hartford power play.

First Ray Ferraro cut behind Scott Stevens, took Kevin Dineen's pass and crashed over Jensen. Moments later, Dineen was lightly checked by Darren Veitch and used the excuse to barrel into Jensen, both gloves in the goalie's face. Larry Murphy went after Dineen and was assessed the lone penalty.

Robertson, a former Capital who often stirs up trouble when he faces Washington, helped to ignite a brawl when he tangled with Greg Adams in front of the Hartford net late in the second period.

The players had been separated and linesman Ron Finn was holding Robertson at bay when Stevens swept Finn aside and attacked the Whalers winger. Stevens, whose night began badly when his No. 3 jersey was found to be missing, carried the No. 2 he was wearing into the dressing room for the rest of the night.

Later, Ed Kastelic ignited a fight with Robertson, who held his own and once again escaped with a lighter sentence.

Before the game, the Capitals sent four players to Binghamton of the American Hockey League. Demoted as of Tuesday were goaltender Bob Mason, left wing Daryl Evans and centers Grant Martin and Mark Taylor.

Goaltender Rick St. Croix agreed to a one-year contract and was assigned to Fort Wayne of the International Hockey League. Also signed was center Claude Dumas, 18, who remains on the Washington roster and played tonight.

Including center David Jensen, who is recuperating from a knee injury, the Capitals have 27 players in camp -- two goalies, seven defensemen and 18 forwards. They plan to cut four more forwards in the next few days.

Earlier today, Hartford assigned 14 players to Binghamton. Among them were goalie Peter Sidorkiewicz and center Dean Evason, the two players acquired from Washington for David Jensen.