BUFFALO, OCT. 11 -- The Washington Capitals lost a tough hockey game tonight -- and Coach Bryan Murray lost his cool.

The Buffalo Sabres defeated the Capitals, 6-5, in a game in which referee Bill McCreary whistled 31 penalties.

Twice the Capitals were two men short, and it was the first such incident that triggered what might have been the most violent tantrum of Murray's coaching career.

Late in the first period, with Buffalo ahead, 4-3, McCreary penalized Washington's Lou Franceschetti for interference. Murray yelled and McCreary immediately added another minor against Washington. Early in the second period the Sabres capitalized to boost their advantage to 5-3.

The Capitals' dressing room and the officials' room are in the same corridor, and when the first period ended Murray stood outside his room and shouted at McCreary. Eyewitnesses reported that linesman Ron Asselstine and Murray then became involved in a shouting match and laid hands on each other before linesman Bob Hodges intervened.

After the game, Murray and General Manager David Poile met for a half hour with Jim Gregory, NHL vice president of hockey operations, and John McCauley, NHL director of officiating, at Murray's request.

Before that, Murray answered reporters' questions about the incident, saying, "I'm not supposed to talk about those guys {the officials}. But when he {McCreary} called Louie {Franceschetti}, I said, 'Why didn't you make the same call on {Mike} Gartner?' and right away he gave me a bench penalty.

"After the period, I stood here {outside the Capitals' dressing room} and said, 'What was that all about? I asked you about the call, I didn't swear and you give me two minutes.' Then Asselstine shot his face off and it went from there."

As he talked with reporters, Murray saw Gregory about to enter the officials' room and said, "Can I speak to you before you talk to them?"

After the meeting, which delayed the Capitals' postgame charter flight, nobody would discuss the incident.

Asked what his official report would contain, McCreary replied, "I don't have the right to comment to a reporter. Jim Gregory and John McCauley are here. You'll have to ask them."

Gregory said, "They {Poile and Murray} asked us to come talk to them. This isn't unusual. It's part of our job to offer an explanation."

As for the possibility of disciplinary action, Gregory said, "That's not my decision. You'll have to wait and see."

Goaltender Pete Peeters, who had been ill during practice this week and plans to undergo precautionary blood tests today, made his season debut for the Capitals and yielded six goals in 35 shots.

The way things started out, it appeared that the team with the last shot would win. Washington scored three times on its first eight shots and Buffalo tied the score each time by connecting on three of its first six.

Scott Arniel's rebound, after Peeters dropped a long shot by Uwe Krupp, sent Buffalo ahead to stay, 4-3, late in the first period.

After Christian Ruuttuu converted the controversial five-on-three, the Sabres received another two-man advantage for 95 seconds because of overlapping penalties to Ed Kastelic and Rod Langway.

The Capitals killed that one and, a few seconds after the teams were back at full strength, Paul Cavallini shoved the puck ahead to Gartner, who converted a two-on-the-goalie break with Mike Ridley. It was Gartner's sixth goal in three games.

The Sabres caught Washington napping at the start of the third period and Clark Gillies converted Scott Arniel's feed at the 12-second mark to put the Sabres ahead, 6-4.

Cavallini got that one back with 13 1/2 minutes remaining, picking off a Dave Andreychuk pass in the Sabres' zone and netting a 25-footer for his first NHL goal.

After Peeters was lifted for a sixth skater, Langway was just wide with a shot and goalie Jacques Cloutier made three big saves, one on Scott Stevens and two on Larry Murphy.

With 21 seconds left, Cloutier and Washington's Dale Hunter exchanged high sticks and slashes. Buffalo's Mike Ramsey was ejected for rescuing the angry goalie.

The Capitals have a 5-39-7 career record against Buffalo, worst against any opponent.