The Washington Capitals once again caught a Patrick Division tartar last night as the New York Rangers breezed to a 5-2 victory at Capital Centre before a disapproving crowd of 17,135.

The Rangers scored on three of their first five shots and outhustled the home club the rest of the way to end Washington's seven-game unbeaten streak.

The Capitals, 9-2-3 against the rest of the NHL, are only 4-5-0 against Patrick teams. That puts them fifth in intradivisional competition; only 0-7 Pittsburgh also is sub-.500.

Washington visits New Jersey tonight to face the Devils, who are 5-2 against divisional foes. It will be the Capitals' last game against a Patrick opponent until Dec. 29.

Although Coach Bryan Murray dismissed the possibility that the Capitals are becoming Patrick patsies, he withheld no praise from the Rangers' solid effort.

"They played better than us tonight," Murray said. "Their forechecking was excellent. They were very disciplined and they took the body on a consistent basis.

"We had a lot of turnovers in our end and we made some bad plays that were turned into goals. We gave up a goal on the first shift and from that point on they jumped and we were tentative."

Ron Greschner set the tone of the evening when he converted Jan Erixon's setup on the first shot of the game, after Bob Brooke had stripped the puck from Rod Langway in the Washington end.

Alan Haworth temporarily tied it with a vicious 45-foot slap shot, as he crossed the Rangers blueline and unloaded.

But another Langway giveaway was turned into a score at the nine-minute mark. This time Mark Pavelich hit from close range after Tomas Sandstrom's centering pass struck the side of the net and rebounded into the slot.

New York's next shot, with Washington's Greg Adams off for hooking, also wound up in the net as Raimo Helminen converted Pavelich's pass out of the left-wing corner.

Washington goalie Pete Peeters was forced to listen to some derisive cheers after that one, since he had stopped only two of five New York shots. But his teammates knew where the fault lay.

"Pete didn't have any help tonight," said Haworth, who gave more than most. "Every time we made a mistake, they seemed to take advantage. I don't think a 2 by 4 would have stopped the puck on a cannon shot from outside the crease like that one."

Three penalties assessed to the Rangers in less than two minutes gave Washington an opportunity to close the gap. Referee Ron Fournier chased Brooke and Mark Osborne for hooking 28 seconds apart, then whistled Greschner for holding while nine seconds remained on Brooke's penalty.

Since no team can be reduced by more than two players, Greschner's penalty was delayed. So the Capitals had a two-man advantage for two minutes, during which goalie John Vanbiesbrouck made four saves.

One second after Osborne's penalty ended, Scott Stevens converted Haworth's pass to close Washington to 3-2. That produced the weird sight of all three Rangers leaving the penalty box at the same time.

Murray vainly claimed that Greschner should have stayed in the box, sharing his confusion with many in the crowd. Unlike the 20 other NHL rinks, Capital Centre has no penalty clocks and squinting at the tiny white figures on TelScreen could confuse anyone.

The Capitals had some good chances to pull even early in the second period. Craig Laughlin hit the crossbar, David Jensen popped a weak shot at Vanbiesbrouck with most of the net open and Dave Christian shot wide after a beautiful setup by Bengt Gustafsson.

Christian's miss came after a slashing penalty to Vanbiesbrouck. That ended with Peter Andersson winding up for a slap shot and Peeters frantically banging his stick on the ice in warning that Stephen Patrick, serving the goalie's sentence, was leaving the box.

Patrick flattened Andersson from behind and the puck popped loose, to be turned into a four-on-one break that ended with Willie Huber scoring his first goal of the season.

Vanbiesbrouck made a superb stop on Greg Adams and Mike Gartner missed the net on a shorthanded breakaway before Brooke converted Sandstrom's pass to complete the scoring 49 seconds before the second intermission.

Peeters, who shut out Quebec in his last start, tried to take the blame for the loss, saying, "The first three goals they worked in really low, but I made mistakes on the fourth and fifth. Even though they had a four on one, I overreacted. If I'd just stood still, he probably would have shot it into me. And on the fifth, if I'd left it for the defense instead of firing it into the glass, they wouldn't have scored."

Going down the drain along with the Capitals' unbeaten string were Gustafsson's streaks of points in 14 straight games and assists in nine.

"My streaks don't mean anything," Gustafsson said. "I can start a new one. What counts is the team's winning streak."