INGLEWOOD, CALIF., JAN. 12 -- The Washington Capitals, recovering from a pointless weekend in Alberta, moved into more promising Smythe Division territory today.

After dropping decisions to Calgary and Edmonton, the NHL's top-ranked teams overall, the Capitals on Wednesday will face the Los Angeles Kings, who own the worst record in the league.

Washington will be without center Bob Gould, who skipped today's practice because of a severe cut on his right elbow. Gould was injured in the third period of Monday's 3-2 loss in Edmonton when he was flattened by Mark Messier.

"Messier got me at the blue line and I fell on the elbow," Gould said. "I didn't think it was cut at the time, but I got in the room and there was a lot of blood under the elbow pad."

Messier received a high-sticking penalty on the play, which occurred with 2:53 left in regulation time, but the Oilers' penalty killers never gave Washington a chance to set up for a possible tying goal.

It was a frustrating defeat for the Capitals, because the eventual game-winner by Messier appeared to be kicked into the Washington net and twice referee Ron Hoggarth whistled play to a halt an instant before the Capitals put the puck in the net.

Messier's goal, which gave Edmonton a 3-1 lead with 15:43 remaining, produced a debate. Messier insisted he had poked the puck across the line with his stick after first knocking it down with his skate, but when asked how close the puck was to the goal line when he hit it, he replied, "I can't say."

Washington goalie Clint Malarchuk claimed the puck was six inches over the line after Messier kicked it, while admitting that Messier was "smart enough to give it a push with his stick."

Replays were inconclusive, because there was no camera behind the net and Messier's body shielded enough of the available camera angle to leave some doubts.

Asked if he would like to see the NHL use replays to decide controversial calls, Coach Bryan Murray replied, "Not from what I saw in the NFL this year. Some things that were very obvious on camera were ruled in favor of the official, anyway. As much as we complain, hockey has so many close calls that we just have to accept the shortcomings of human judgement."

Murray at least was pleased with the way his team rebounded from Sunday's 8-2 disaster in Calgary. The Capitals outshot the Oilers, 10-3, in the third period and made it close on a goal by Peter Sundstrom with 9:16 remaining.

Greg Adams and Lou Franceschetti played tough, physical games against the hard-hitting Oilers, Franceschetti bouncing back after taking a crunching first-period check from Craig Muni.

In February, the Capitals became the first NHL team since 1982 to defeat both Edmonton and Calgary on the same trip. In between, however, they took a 7-4 beating from Los Angeles. Now, they are in the position of trying to salvage something on the stop here.