PITTSBURGH, NOV. 11 -- The Washington Capitals took the physical route to defeat tonight. Chastised for a lack of hitting in recent failures, the Capitals turned tigers and unsettled just about everybody in a Pittsburgh uniform except goalie Pat Riggin.

The former Washington netminder was a virtual spectator for one period and rarely was tested thereafter as the Penguins, playing without eight injured players, including superstar Mario Lemieux, earned a 3-2 victory.

It really wasn't that close, Kelly Miller scoring Washington's second goal with 37 seconds left after goalie Clint Malarchuk had been lifted for a sixth skater.

The outcome boosted Pittsburgh into a third-place Patrick Division tie with Washington, which dropped its fourth straight and tumbled below the .500 mark (7-8-1) after such a promising start.

Pittsburgh scored all of its goals on only six shots in the second period, after Mike Gartner gave the Capitals a brief lead with a power-play conversion. Randy Cunneyworth, Rob Brown and Dave Hannan connected within a stretch of 8 minutes 10 seconds.

The Capitals, forced to skate off two major penalties and a pair of two-man disadvantages, were shorthanded for 15 minutes 7 seconds.

"The guys tried to play, to get involved and make some contact," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "But we got involved in situations where we got some questionable penalties -- on our part, not the calls."

Outshot, 10-1, in the first period, the Capitals nevertheless kept the game scoreless, as Rod Langway, Scott Stevens and Bob Gould, in particular, did a superb job killing off two-man deficits that lasted 36 seconds and 76 seconds.

"We had to kill so many penalties, but we got out of it and we were looking forward to the next period," Miller said. "Then they got a couple of goals and we couldn't get them back. We worked real hard tonight and we got some excellent chances. It's frustrating not to have them go in."

The Capitals, who held a postgame players' meeting to try to relieve some of their frustrations, have managed only 19 goals in their last nine games, of which they have won two. They have recorded one equal-strength score during the four-game losing streak.

"Most of their tough shots came on the power play," Riggin said. "They were driving to the net -- I got a couple of sticks in the head and a few bumps. But they didn't finish good."

Murray said, "Effortwise, that was as good as in the previous games. But as far as getting anything done, that's as poor as we've been in a while."

Murray once again juggled the lines and this time accompanied the moves with new defensive pairings. But he said he did not emphasize hitting in his pregame meeting.

"I didn't ask them for anything special," Murray said. "I talked to some guys briefly about certain things. But right now everybody's overtrying and overreacting."

In the first period, Lou Franceschetti was involved at both ends of the two-man shortages. He was off for high sticking when Peter Sundstrom joined him in the box for holding. No sooner had Franceschetti returned to the ice than he blasted Doug Bodger into the boards and was assessed a major penalty for charging.

Bodger suffered a bruised right knee, so the Penguins will have nine absentees Thursday when they visit Philadelphia, trying to end an 0-35-3 Spectrum drought.

In the third period, after there was some doubt about a whistle during a delayed penalty to Washington's Bengt Gustafsson, the Penguins' Craig Simpson continued to whack at the puck in front of Malarchuk. Stevens decked him and was given a major penalty for high sticking.

Oddly, the Penguins' only power-play goal was scored while Mike Ridley was in the box for holding. It was Ridley's first penalty of the season; on Tuesday, the Islanders took advantage of Dave Christian's first penalty in 44 games.

Gartner scored on the fifth shot of the only effective Capitals power play early in the second period, rebounding a drive by Kevin Hatcher.

The Penguins bounced back when Cunneyworth one-timed the puck past Malarchuk from the left-wing circle. Cunneyworth is poison to the Capitals, scoring against them six times last season while Lemieux netted only two.

With Ridley off, Brown spun in the slot and sent a shot off Malarchuk's stick. Then Hannan took Cunneyworth's pass behind Langway and beat Malarchuk with a breakaway shot on the glove side.

Riggin made a big save on Dale Hunter during a Washington power play late in the period, then played a steady third period until yielding the final goal, on a Christian shot that appeared to deflect off Miller, although nobody was certain.

"I thought it hit me, but I'm not sure," Miller said. "It doesn't make much difference, though. When you win, it really doesn't matter who scored the goals. And when you lose, it matters even less."

Washington 0 1 1 2 Pittsburgh 0 3 0 3

FIRST PERIOD SCORING -- None. PENALTIES -- Smith, Was (major, fighting), 4:38; Kachowski, Pit (major, fighting), 4:38; Gartner, Was (interference), 5:11; Hannan, Pit (holding), 7:47; Frawley, Pit (elbowing), 12:25; Franceschetti, Was (high-sticking), 14:47; Sundstrom, Was (holding), 16:11; Franceschetti, Was, minor-major (roughing, charging), 16:55; Simmer, Pit (roughing), 16:55.

SECOND PERIOD SCORING -- 1, Washington, Gartner 9 (Hatcher, Stevens), 4:51 (pp). 2, Pittsburgh, Cunneyworth 8 (Hannan, Brown), 8:27. 3, Pittsburgh, Brown 4 (Siren, Hillier), 10:55 (pp). 4, Pittsburgh, Hannan 3 (Cunneyworth), 16:37. PENALTIES -- Simpson, Pit (interference), 3:41; Pittsburgh bench (served by Simmer; unsportsmanlike conduct), 4:51; Ridley, Was (holding), 10:03; Cavallini, Was (major, fighting), 13:03; Paiement, Pit (minor-major; instigator, fighting), 13:03; Hillier, Pit (tripping), 18:29.

THIRD PERIOD SCORING -- 5, Washington, Miller 2 (Christian, Hunter), 19:23. PENALTIES -- Mathiasen, Pit (tripping), 2:39; Gustafsson, Was (tripping), 2:54; Stevens, Was (major, high-sticking), 2:54; Johnson, Pit (roughing), 2:54; Laughlin, Was (roughing), 9:59; Johnson, Pit (roughing), 9:59; Laughlin, Was (roughing), 12:58; Cunneyworth, Pit (roughing), 12:58; Washington bench (served by Franceschetti, too many men on ice), 13:40.

Shots on goal: Washington 1 14 9 24 Pittsburgh 10 6 6 22

Power-play opportunities: Washington, 1 of 7; Pittsburgh, 1 of 7.

Goalies: Washington, Malarchuk (22 shots-19 saves). Pittsburgh, Riggin (24-22).

A -- 14,261

Referee -- Don Koharski. Linesmen -- Ron Finn, Leon Stickle.