The Washington Capitals posted their third straight one-goal victory on Capital Centre ice last night. However, once again, it should not have been that close.

The man who kept this one from becoming a laugher was Toronto goaltender Ken Wregget, who stopped 39 shots. Still, the 21-year-old emergency fill-in could not prevent goals by Greg Adams, Larry Murphy and Alan Haworth that enabled the Capitals to win the NHL game, 3-2.

Washington's 42 shots were a season high. Toronto's 16 were a season low for a Capitals opponent.

"We make it really tough on ourselves, not that we didn't have a lot of good chances offensively," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "Wregget obviously played well and he did keep them in it to some extent."

Washington had a 3-0 margin after 29 minutes, but goals by Jim Benning and Wes Jarvis made it closer on the scoreboard than it was on the ice. When Wregget robbed Bob Carpenter from close range with the differential at one, there was reason to think the injury-riddled Maple Leafs might pull off a miracle, but Washington goalie Pete Peeters fought off a flurry of three shots in the last three minutes.

Haworth, whose 15th goal became his fourth game-winner, tying for the NHL lead in that category, said, "Our offense played well and our defense played well. But he (Wregget) made some really key stops. Bobby Carpenter and Larry Murphy had him cold right in front of the net and he stopped them."

Washington actually took its 42 shots in the last 54 1/2 minutes. There were none by either team in the first five, even though overlapping penalties to Jarvis and Wregget gave the Capitals a two-man advantage for 33 seconds.

"That really bothered me," Murray said. "We didn't even try to set up and we made a couple of gambling-type passes. It's disturbing to get that kind of advantage and not get one good chance."

Adams' eighth goal, matching his total for the last two seasons combined, opened the scoring at 18:07. Craig Laughlin skated down the middle and dished the puck off to his left to Scott Stevens, who hit Adams alone at the right post.

The Capitals' intense power-play pressure paid off early in the second period as Murphy scored from the right point after Wregget had blocked shots by Peter Andersson and Mike Gartner.

"I was standing out by the point, about six feet in from the blueline, and one of their guys tried to clear it off the boards," Murphy said. "I stopped it and shot without looking. The puck was lying flat and I didn't have to handle it. You don't often have that luxury."

It became 3-0 at 8:26 of the second period as Laughlin crossed the blueline, stopped and held the puck until Haworth was able to cut behind the defense. Laughlin's pass was close enough for Haworth to reach out and poke the puck past Wregget.

"Locker is a very good passer, one of the best on the team," Haworth said. "He put it right through to where I was able to redirect it into the net."

At that point, it probably would have been best to let sleeping Maple Leafs lie. But Capital Ed Kastelic rammed Maryland-born Jeff Brubaker into the boards and started punching.

The lengthy fight earned Kastelic a minor, a major and a game misconduct, to a major for Brubaker. On the ensuing power play, Benning beat Peeters low on the stick side to put Toronto on the board.

Technically, the Maple Leafs, who rank last in the NHL on the power play, did not get another extra-man score at 3:19 in the third period. But Jarvis converted Brad Smith's pass at the end of a three-on-two break at the exact second that the Capitals' Darren Veitch left the penalty box following his second interference penalty of the third period.

The goal was the first in two years for Jarvis, the onetime Capital who was leading the American Hockey League with a remarkable 57 points in 29 games when Toronto called him up from St. Catharines yesterday.