Mike Murphy had to be laughing. Fired as the Los Angeles Kings' coach yesterday, Murphy flew back to the West Coast and was spared watching the defenseless Kings drop a 10-3 decision to the Washington Capitals last night at Capital Centre.

Scott Stevens set a club record with five assists and Mike Ridley, Mike Gartner and Bengt Gustafsson collected four points apiece for a Washington team that had managed as many as five goals only once in the previous 21 games. Ridley, Dale Hunter, Dave Christian and Kevin Hatcher each netted two goals.

General Manager Rogie Vachon, who made the decision to dismiss Murphy, got a firsthand look at the team he has assembled as he handled the Kings' bench duties. It was not a pleasant sight.

"The players were confused," Vachon said. "They made bad mistakes and bad decisions all night. They looked ready physically in the warmup but emotionally, we were hurt tonight.

"We're in jeopardy of missing the playoffs and hopefully a new guy can come in and turn things around. We made the change because we have the worst record in the league {7-17-4}. Mike Murphy has worked very hard and tried everything he could. But obviously it hasn't worked."

No. 1 candidate to replace Murphy is Robbie Ftorek, the coach at New Haven of the American League. Ftorek is due here this morning and could be in charge by the time the team practices at Fort Dupont at 2 p.m. Of course, if he saw the videotape of this one, he might have some steep salary demands.

The Kings think offense almost exclusively, which might explain why they have given up 143 goals in 28 games. Last night they fired 14 shots on goal in the third period and scored once. Washington netted its first five shots of the period and totaled six goals in seven attempts, while the crowd of 10,321 alternately laughed, and jeered at ex-Capital Bob Carpenter.

"You need these games once in a while, especially against teams that don't stress defense," Stevens said. "It was nice to see our forwards hold the puck and make good plays at the blue line, so we didn't have to dump and chase all night. But we can't think we're going to do this {Tuesday} against Calgary. They play a different game."

"This was good for the whole team," said Ridley. "It seems like we've had 20 one-goal games already and tonight a lot of people gained some confidence that they can put pucks in the net. It's funny the way sometimes we'll get 20 shots and just one goal. It all evens out, I guess."

One of the more incredible statistics was that Gartner did not have a shot on goal for the first time this season. He was credited with four assists, however.

The Capitals rolled up four power-play goals, making 18 in the last eight games. The extra-man unit broke the game open, Hatcher connecting twice in the first period.

Still, it was reasonably close at 4-2 after two periods, because Bernie Nicholls scored twice for the Kings. Nicholls extended his point streak to 12 games with a goal while the Capitals were two men short, Paul Cavallini going off for hooking and the team drawing a bench minor because Cavallini went after Dave Taylor instead of proceeding directly to the penalty box.

Then Nicholls converted a shorthanded breakaway after Paul Fenton knocked the puck loose from Larry Murphy.

In the third period, though, the Capitals compiled a shooting percentage that the Bullets can only envy. Bob Gould, Hunter, Christian, Ridley and Hunter again put Washington's first five shots past goalie Roland Melanson, who lost to the Capitals for only the fourth time in 17 career decisions.

After Melanson stopped a shot by Lou Franceschetti with 2:16 left for his only save of the period, Christian achieved double figures.

"You can't blame the goaltender," Vachon said. "They were getting a lot of quality shots. Our third man wasn't covering their third man."

The Los Angeles players did not think Murphy was the man to blame, either.

"We knew something was going to happen, but we figured it would be more in line of a trade," Bob Bourne said. "I don't think it was Mike's fault. I think he'll be a heck of a coach some day."

Luc Robitaille said, "It wasn't Mike's fault. It was the players' fault. This is tough, because we liked Mike."

Bryan Erickson said, "The shock is how awful we're doing. No one can put a finger on it. But you can't blame Mike Murphy. He was as well prepared as any coach I've played for."

Two players, Kelly Miller of Washington and Mark Hardy of Los Angeles, were hospitalized for observation after being struck in the head by shots fired by Larry Murphy. Miller had a knot on his forehead, Hardy a cheekbone bruise.

Gretzky: 5 Goals

From News Services

Wayne Gretzky scored five goals to pace the Edmonton Oilers to a 10-4 rout of the Minnesota North Stars last night in Edmonton.

Gretzky also had an assist, on the game's first goal, then scored three times in the first period and once in each of the second and third periods to give him 25 and the NHL goal-scoring lead ahead of idle Mario Lemieux of Pittsburgh.

And he was deprived of a sixth goal on a third-period shot that replays showed had crossed the line before goalie Don Beaupre cleared it out and was credited with a save.

Devils 1, Flyers 1:

Kirk Muller netted a five-foot wrist shot with less than five minutes remaining to give New Jersey the tie in Philadelphia, ending the Flyers' longest winning streak this season at three games. Neither team took a shot in the overtime period.

Canucks 5, Sabres 1:

Tony Tanti broke a 0-0 tie with two goals in the second period as Vancouver ended a 2-1-1 trip by giving Buffalo its sixth loss in seven games.Capitals 10, Kings 3 Los Angeles 1 1 1 3 Washington 3 1 6 10

FIRST PERIOD SCORING -- 1, Washington, Hatcher 5 (Gartner, Gustafsson), 4:39 (pp). 2, Washington, Ridley 11, 7:39. 3, Los Angeles, Nicholls 12 (Carpenter, Duchesne), 14:19 (pp). 4, Washington, Hatcher 6 (Gustafsson, Stevens), 19:13 (pp). PENALTIES -- Melanson, LA, served by Robitaille (hooking), 4:00; Ledyard, LA (holding), 5:26; Cavallini, Was (cross-checking), 8:34; Cavallini, Was (hooking), 12:48; Washington Bench, served by Kastelic (delay of game), 12:48; Playfair, LA, double minor (elbowing, roughing), 16:21.

SECOND PERIOD SCORING -- 5, Washington, Gustafsson 8 (Gartner, Stevens), 5:09 (pp). 6, Los Angeles, Nicholls 13 (Fenton), 12:13 (sh). PENALTIES -- Gartner, Was (tripping), :27; Playfair, LA (hooking), 3:43; Wells, LA (cross-checking), 4:00; Paterson, LA (roughing), 8:15; Sundstrom, Was (holding), 8:15; Playfair, LA, major (fighting), 10:01; Kastelic, Was, major (fighting), 10:01; Carson, LA (holding), 10:27; Ridley, Was (holding), 19:11.

THIRD PERIOD SCORING -- 7, Washington, Gould 3 (Murphy, Stevens), 1:56. 8, Washington, Hunter 9 (Gartner, Murphy), 3:44. 9, Washington, Christian 9 (Ridley, Stevens), 5:53. 10, Los Angeles, Taylor 11 (Ledyard, Robitaille), 8:25 (pp). 11, Washington, Ridley 12 (Stevens, Murphy), 10:48 (pp). 12, Washington, Hunter 10 (Gartner, Gustafsson), 13:17. 13, Washington, Christian 10 (Ridley, Adams), 19:14. PENALTIES -- Ridley, Was (tripping), 7:30; Malarchuk, Was, served by Hunter (unsportsmanlike conduct), 8:25; Taylor, LA (interference), 10:26; Paterson, LA, major (fighting), 19:17; Kastelic, Was, major (fighting), 19:17.

Shots on goal: Los Angeles 11 6 14 31 Washington 15 4 7 26

Power-play Opportunities -- Los Angeles 2 of 7; Washington 4 of 8.

Goalies -- Los Angeles, Melanson (26 shots-16 saves). Washington, Malarchuk (31-28).

A -- 10,321.

Referee -- Rob Shick. Linesmen -- Mark Vines, Gerard Gauthier.