The Washington Capitals started tonight's NHL game without center Bengt Gustafsson, who has a jammed left wrist. They ended it without Coach Bryan Murray, who was ejected early in the second period; goalie Pat Riggin, who was yanked after yielding four goals in eight shots, and winger Bob Gould, who suffered a 25-stitch skate cut on the right side of his face.

The result, as one might imagine, was a loss, 4-1 to the New Jersey Devils, a team that had beaten Washington only twice in 21 games before tonight.

Paul MacLean scored twice for the Devils, who were making it two straight victories at the start of the season, a feat the Capitals have not accomplished in their 12-year history. Mike Gartner's power play goal in the third period prevented Chico Resch, the NHL's oldest player at 37, from posting a shutout.

Washington, forever a slow-starting team, takes an 0-2 record into Sunday night's 7:05 home opener against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Gustafsson, who scored both Washington goals in Thursday's 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers, is not expected to be a participant. Neither is Riggin. Al Jensen, who replaced him tonight and shut out the Devils for the last 28 1/2 minutes, will start in goal. Nor is Gould, who is scheduled for precautionary X-rays on Sunday.

Murray will be back behind the bench. At least, he restrained his outrage at referee Andy Van Hellemond to verbal abuse and departed without further histrionics when he was assessed a game misconduct penalty.

Murray and Van Hellemond discussed the ejection following the second period, and both said their parting was amicable.

Murray became enraged when New Jersey's Greg Adams left the penalty box with one second remaining on a penalty. A similar situation in Hartford during an exhibition game brought an additional minor penalty and Murray wanted one against Adams.

Van Hellemond checked with the penalty box timekeeper, who said it was his fault, and he passed that information along to Washington captain Rod Langway.

The ensuing faceoff was near the Capitals' bench, and Murray poured a stream of invective remarks at the referee, positioned near the circle. Van Hellemond responded by issuing Washington a bench minor penalty. When Murray, instead of sending a player to the penalty box, continued his tirade, he was ejected.

"The argument was over one second, and it was not something I missed," Van Hellemond said. "The rule specifically calls for a penalty if the player leaves early on his own, but in this case the man was let out by mistake, so there is no penalty.

"I went to Rod and explained it to him. We have captains to get that understanding. But he (Murray) went on about not calling things the same in the regular season as exhibitions, and about how I'm always calling things different. I gave him a bench minor -- that's our warning -- and after that the next step is ejection.

"In 15 years that's only the third coach I've ever ejected. It's not a common occurrence. But I had to get the game going.

"We talked after the second period and I told him, 'If you're going to get that excited over one second, what'll you do if there's a close call on a goal or something really important?' "

Murray appeared somewhat contrite afterward and admitted he had been shocked by the ejection, the only one he could remember. Twice last year he received gross misconducts for postgame tantrums, with the second resulting in a $1,000 fine and a stern warning to avoid future incidents.

"I asked him why is it different in a league game versus preseason, with the same situation, and why the application of the rules is different when he referees," Murray said. "He didn't have to give me a two-minute minor. I felt he was putting on a little bit of a show. But we talked it out, and that's the end of it."

Ron Lapointe, Murray's new assistant, replaced him and was forced to make an early decision, to replace Riggin after the goalie allowed MacLean's 40-footer to sail over his left shoulder for a 4-0 New Jersey lead.

"Pat was struggling, and after he had looked so good in practice yesterday," Murray said. "We didn't give up many chances and we got enough quality chances of our own, but they just aren't going in the net."

The Capitals had a 31-17 advantage in shots, but Resch made some big stops and he was aided when a belated offside call wiped out his muff of a Kevin Hatcher drive.

Gould was cut by Resch's skate in the third period when the goalie pirouetted behind the net as Gould skated past.

A fight involving all the players on the ice erupted with eight seconds left when New Jersey's Rich Preston speared Gaetan Duchesne, who went after him. With Preston winning the fight, Washington's Greg Adams came to Duchesne's aid. Both Adams and Preston were ejected.