Two weeks ago, Washington Capitals Coach Bryan Murray convened a team meeting and cleared the air after embarrassing losses to Detroit and Toronto. Now, with a couple of days for thought coming up in southern California, team captain Rod Langway has indicated he will call his own gathering, players only, to try to get things back on the right track.

Langway, who tends to be rather blunt on these occasions, will be speaking from a position of strength -- not only physical, but the fact that at plus-one he was one of the few players not personally embarrassed by his performance Wednesday in Washington's 8-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

There have been many nights recently when it seems the Capitals have swerved off the road to the Stanley Cup and, instead, are speeding toward oblivion.

Wednesday was one of those nights, as the Penguins laughed their way to victory over a Washington team they had been unable to beat in 16 previous meetings.

The Capitals used to be kings of the road. Over the last two seasons, they have collected 91 points on unfriendly ice, a figure topped only by the Stanley Cup-champion Edmonton Oilers.

Earlier this season, the Capitals ran off a seven-game unbeaten streak away from home, including a 5-2 victory over the Oilers in Edmonton.

Coaches and players were talking about how much easier it was to concentrate on hockey away from the distractions inherent in playing at home.

In the last four road games, however, the Capitals have played only one period of good, solid hockey. That was enough to wipe out a 4-0 deficit and beat Hartford, 5-4. But in Detroit (0-7), Toronto (2-5) and here, there has been barely a glimmer of efficient play.

"Half our guys were giving half an effort out there," said Murray, who obviously is becoming weary of talking about something that must be solved by action.

"We took great pride that, win or lose, each and every night we played good, hard, disciplined hockey," Murray said.

"I don't know what's happened to that pride. The puck was like a hot potato, and we didn't want it. Pittsburgh played well. If we'd played our best, they still might have won it. But it would have been a heck of a hockey game. This wasn't much of anything.

"We talked about Pittsburgh enough. We knew how much they depend on that play from behind the net. Then we just stood there and let them execute it. We didn't jump on ourselves to win the game. We didn't use our bodies to eliminate the easy passing plays.

"It was one of those games where everything they did worked and everything we did didn't work. But there were reasons for that. It wasn't luck. They came to play and we didn't."

The Capitals had hoped to use their perennial patsies to get a good start on the longest, toughest trip of the season. Now, they must beat Los Angeles Saturday or face the possibility of a zero-for-six swing, with games to follow on Long Island and in Montreal, Philadelphia and Buffalo.

Of course, the anomaly with this team is its habit, just when it is being written off, of coming up with an unexpected triumph. After all, the Capitals did sweep their three-game series against Edmonton.

"What makes this so frustrating and hard to understand is that we're playing well against the top clubs," Murray said. "Then we play Detroit and Toronto and Pittsburgh and we don't show up.

"What the guys have got to understand is that we're so close to winning this thing. It's almost like we're afraid of success. We just get so close and then we throw it all away." Flyers 6, Islanders 3

Tim Kerr, who had missed Philadelphia's previous four games because of a severe case of the flu, scored two goals to lead the Flyers, who were playing at home, to the victory over New York. Devils 4, Canadiens 3

Greg Adams and Mel Bridgman scored power-play goals as New Jersey won in East Rutherford, N.J. It was the Canadiens' fourth loss in their last five games. Blues 5, North Stars 3

Doug Gilmour scored on a rebound of a shot by Rob Ramage to break a 2-2 tie late in the second period and Mark Hunter and Doug Wickenheiser scored 3 1/2 minutes apart in the final period to give host St. Louis the victory over Minnesota. Blackhawks 5, Maple Leafs 4

Curt Fraser completed a hat trick 3:29 in overtime to give Chicago the victory over visiting Toronto. Chicago took a 4-3 lead into the final period, but Miroslav Frycer completed a hat trick at 7:57 of the third period to tie the game.