CALGARY, ALBERTA, JAN. 10 -- The National Hockey League's best offensive team challenged the No. 1 defense tonight. It was no contest from the opening minute.

The Calgary Flames enhanced their overall NHL lead, as well as their scoring figures, with an 8-2 thrashing of the Washington Capitals. It was the fourth straight victory for Calgary, which has lost only four of its last 24.

The Capitals, who had not yielded more than six goals all season, gave up number seven tonight at 6:44 of the second period. They had a number of streaks terminated -- unbeaten in six games, victories in five and undefeated in five on the road.

The line of Joe Nieuwendyk, Hakan Loob and Gary Roberts collected five goals for Calgary. Loob, coveted in vain by Washington during the offseason, had two goals and two assists. Nieuwendyk, everyone's pick as rookie of the year, earned two goals for a total of 32 and assisted on another.

"It was disappointing and embarrassing," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "It was a humbling experience and maybe it will open a few eyes. As much as I talk about our team, even if we'd played our top game, I don't know if we'd have won, the way they were flying tonight."

The carnage was divided between two Washington goalies, and both must have wondered about their defensemen's whereabouts.

Pete Peeters, making his first appearance since suffering a knee injury Dec. 26, gave up five in less than 24 minutes, then Clint Malarchuk was beaten three times before Peeters returned for a scoreless, seven-save third period.

"When we were down by five {actually, 5-1}, I didn't think it was very fair to Peter to have to put up with that," Murray said. "He was diving around on a couple, but for his first time in two weeks, he wasn't getting any help. I hoped the team might pick it up for Clint, but they didn't, so I figured I might as well put Pete back in. He needed the work."

Peeters said, "It was one of those nights. I think a lot of guys can reflect on what they didn't do. We have a game tomorrow {in Edmonton} and those guys can tap dance, too."

It was 2-0 before Washington put a shot on rookie goalie Doug Dadswell, who wound up with 28 saves. The Flames' 34-30 edge in shots was misleading, however, because Calgary often was able to hold the puck for a quality shot in the face of little resistance.

Joe Mullen started the rout on Calgary's second shot, after 33 seconds. Al MacInnis lined one over the net, it struck the glass and caromed out over Peeters' head. Mullen beat the Washington defense to the puck for his 19th goal.

Two minutes later, Nieuwendyk took a pass from Loob as he broke behind the defense. Peeters made the initial save, but Nieuwendyk swatted at the rebound until the puck skidded across the line.

Although Dave Christian halved the margin, Calgary made it 3-1 before the first period ended. An attempted centering pass from the right wing boards by John Tonelli struck the far post and deflected into the net.

The Flames scored four times in the first seven minutes of the second period, Peeters departing after being beaten on a breakaway by Nieuwendyk and Loob's score off a two-on-one feed from Nieuwendyk.

To illustrate the goaltenders' problems, Malarchuk was greeted by a sequence in which he stopped Steve Bozek at close range and made a sensational save on Joel Otto's rebound, only to have Bozek score on a midair second deflection.

Loob netted his second goal after MacInnis' rinkwide pass reached him off the stick of defenseman Larry Murphy.

After Bob Gould produced Washington's second goal, Roberts stole the puck from Stevens and scored on a breakaway.

The eight-goal yield was the most against the Capitals since an 8-2 defeat in Toronto Dec. 10, 1986.

Montreal took over the mantle of top defensive team, which the Canadiens had yielded after dropping a 9-3 decision here on Dec. 28.

"Our guys take it as a personal affront," said Calgary Coach Terry Crisp. "We're the top offensive club and everybody says defense wins games, so we try to show them they're wrong. We try to get a lead quickly, then they can't play their style. It forces them to open up."

Murray agreed, saying, "When they scored on those first two shots, it seemed to take everything out of us. They just smoked us. That's as bad as I've seen us look against anybody in four or five years."

The crowd of 19,586, just 40 short of capacity, enjoyed frequent choruses of "Loooooob" as the Swede was a dominant figure with his two linemates. Loob played on a line with Washington's Bengt Gustafsson when Sweden won the World Championships in April and the Capitals tried to get him for the same role.

"I heard a lot about that, but I don't know how serious it was," Loob said. "Gus and I played really good together in the World Championships." Washington

1

1

0

2 Calgary

3

5

0

8

FIRST PERIOD SCORING -- 1, Calgary, Mullen 19 (MacInnis, Murzyn), :33. 2, Calgary, Nieuwendyk 31 (Loob, McCrimmon), 2:33. 3, Washington, Christian 19 (Corriveau, Hatcher), 12:32. 4, Calgary, Tonelli 8 (Hull, Otto), 15:23 (pp). PENALTIES -- Tonelli, Cal (hooking), 5:09; Gould, Was (slashing), 8:05; Peplinski, Cal (roughing), 8:05; Glynn, Cal (holding), 12:36; Stevens, Was (tripping), 14:12.

SECOND PERIOD SCORING -- 5, Calgary, Nieuwendyk 32 (Loob, McCrimmon), 1:23. 6, Calgary, Loob 24 (Nieuwendyk, Roberts), 3:51. 7, Calgary, Bozek 2 (Hunter, McDonald), 4:49. 8, Calgary, Loob 25 (MacInnis, Murzyn), 6:44. 9, Washington, Gould 6 (Laughlin, Adams), 11:15. 10, Calgary, Roberts 8, 15:26.

PENALTIES -- Hunter, Was, minor-major (high-sticking, fighting), 4:49; Otto, Cal, minor-major (high-sticking, fighting), 4:49; Hatcher, Was (high-sticking), 7:36; Tonelli, Cal (high-sticking), 7:36; Suter, Cal (holding), 16:14.

THIRD PERIOD SCORING -- None. PENALTIES -- None.

Shots on goal:

Washington

11

13

6

30

Calgary

13

14

7

34

Power-play Opportunities -- Washington 0 of 3; Calgary 1 of 1.

Goalies -- Washington, Peeters (16 shots-11 saves), Malarchuk (3:51 second, 9-6), Peeters (:00 third, 9-9). Calgary, Dadswell (30-28).

A -- 19,586.

Referee -- Ron Hoggarth. Linesmen -- Ryan Bozak, Jim Christison.

Devils 7, Flyers 5:

Pat Verbeek scored three goals to lead New Jersey to its first victory in Philadelphia since Oct. 10, 1985, although the Devils are 3-0-2 overall versus the Flyers this season. The Devils gained a second-place tie with Washington, a point behind the Flyers in the Patrick Division.

Red Wings 7, Penguins 5:

In Detroit, Steve Yzerman scored two goals and assisted on three, extending his point streak to 22 successive games, as Detroit overrode a four-goal game by Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux. Detroit is 5-0-1 its last six games. Lemieux's third four-goal game of his career could not prevent the Penguins' winless streak from reaching eight games.

Sabres 4, Rangers 3:

In Buffalo, Christian Ruuttu scored with seven minutes left in the third period to snap a 3-3 tie. Ruuttu's 35-foot wrist shot eluded New York goalie Bob Froese and put the Sabres' winning streak at five games, their longest since February.

Jets 4, Maple Leafs 3:

Dale Hawerchuk scored with 22 seconds left in the third period as Winnipeg, at home, beat Toronto and ended a five-game winless streak. Toronto is in an 0-5-3 slump.

Blackhawks 5, Kings 2:

In Chicago, recently acquired right wing Dirk Graham had two goals and an assist to sting Los Angeles.