Only the color of the opposing uniform and the location were different. The Washington Capitals launched the most shots for the third straight game last night and for the third straight time they came up on the short end of the score.

Brian Propp scored two goals and Pelle Lindbergh blocked 31 shots as the Philadelphia Flyers continued their mastery over the Capitals, 4-2, and spoiled the NHL team's home opener before 17,543 at Capital Centre.

Once again, the Washington club worked hard, as shown in the 33-24 shooting figures. But for the second straight night, only Mike Gartner was able to put a puck in the net, raising his season total to three.

This was the fourth straight season that the Capitals have lost their first home game. They are 0-3 heading on a trip to Toronto and Buffalo, and nobody can explain why the team always starts so slowly.

"I don't know what it is," Gartner said. "We're in very good condition, so we can't use that as an excuse. One thing -- we have to make sure we don't slide any further."

The Capitals applied good pressure early on Lindbergh, who stopped seven shots in the first 10 minutes to relieve any leftover pressure from his six-goal debacle against New Jersey Thursday. Then, Propp fired a back-hander between Al Jensen's legs on the Flyers' second shot of the game and Philadelphia was ahead to stay.

"Lindbergh had some big saves early and he had four or five great saves tonight," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "There were several through screens where he reacted at the last second."

Philadelphia's Rich Sutter and Gartner exchanged second-period goals, then Propp converted Dave Poulin's setup to boost the visitors' lead to 3-1 five minutes into the third period.

The Capitals obviously were trying hard and the first boos from the stands were not heard until six minutes remained, when Washington's Bob Carpenter passed the puck directly onto the stick of the Flyers' Murray Craven in the Washington end.

Many seats were empty when the Capitals provided a couple of late thrills. With Jensen off for a sixth skater, Gartner netted a rebound of a drive by Larry Murphy with 1:23 left to play, trimming the margin to 3-2.

Jensen stayed off and Dave Christian came close to a tie before Rick Tocchet wrapped it up for the Flyers by hitting an empty net with 39 seconds left.

"I thought we played a little better in some spots tonight," Murray said. "There was a scramble at the end and with a little luck we could have gotten a tie instead of missing by two inches.

"I give good marks for our effort, and our forechecking, and the turnovers we created. But we didn't finish the way you have to against this team. You get so few chances."

Murray, after being ejected Saturday three minutes into the second period at New Jersey, worked as hard behind the bench last night as many players on the ice. Angered by Flyers Coach Mike Keenan's tactic of sending out six skaters for a faceoff and withdrawing one when he saw the matchups, Murray refused to put a team on the ice until referee Dave Newell warned Keenan.

"Last year we put up with that nonsense all season and we won't do it again," Murray said. "We'll be very patient if we have to be."

The Capitals called up wingers Andre Hidi and Bryan Erickson from Binghamton early in the day because of the injuries the team suffered in New Jersey. Neither played, however, as only Bob Gould, with a 25-stitch skate cut on the right side of his face, sat out the game.

Bengt Gustafsson, who missed the 4-1 loss to the Devils with a jammed left wrist, showed some adept stickhandling although he had difficulty shooting. Gustafsson took Greg Adams' outlet pass in the second period and made a perfect feed to Gartner for Washington's first goal.

"Once you're out there, you don't think about it," Gustafsson said. "You can't afford to." Carpenter, still searching for his first goal, had heavy tape around his sore back and an ice pack on his left instep after the game.

"I'm a little tight and I've got a couple of bruises, but it's nothing that will keep me out," Carpenter said. "It just bugs me a little bit."

Washington defenseman Scott Stevens needed four stitches to close a gash on the back of his head that soaked the top of his sweater in blood. Stevens struck his head on the ice during a third-period wrestling match with Tocchet.