ST. LOUIS, JAN. 15 -- The Washington Capitals began the week with fruitless games in Calgary and Edmonton, the toughest ordeal devised by the National Hockey League schedule maker. Now, they hope to reap the benefits of the most favorable fare offered to an NHL traveler.

Saturday at the St. Louis Arena and Sunday in Chicago the Capitals oppose two sub-.500, injury riddled Norris Division teams, the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. Not even the most superstitious and cautious of Capitals would confess to expecting less than a sweep.

"If we're playing well, we have an excellent chance to win both games," Coach Bryan Murray said today after a 90-minute workout in suburban Brentwood. "These are games that at the start of the trip we figured to do well in. I'd like to have won one of those first two, because we'd have a heck of a chance for a big trip."

Despite the status of the Blues and Blackhawks, both five games under .500, they can be tough on teams that have trouble scoring, as the Hartford Whalers learned in dropping a 2-1 decision in Chicago Wednesday and a 3-2 contest here Thursday. So Murray hopes the Capitals retain the touch displayed in Wednesday's 8-3 triumph in Los Angeles.

"These are teams competing for spots in their division and they work hard and generally get good goaltending," Murray said. "We don't blow many out like L.A. and usually we don't finish the way we like to.

"In Edmonton {a 3-2 loss on Monday}, for all the controversy, we had chances to win in the third period and didn't take advantage of them. We had a tough time against St. Louis {a 2-2 tie} and Chicago {a 2-1 victory} in December and we're going to have to work hard to get two points from each of them this weekend."

Each opponent features one top line and Murray intends to force changes on the fly so he gets a matchup with which he is comfortable.

The Blues, with six injured forwards, have only one line that constitutes much of a threat -- Bernie Federko centering Brian Sutter and Mark Hunter. The Blackhawks, missing five players, including star defenseman Doug Wilson, feature the Denis Savard-Rick Vaive pairing with whatever left wing Coach Bob Murdoch sends out with them.

To counter those threats, Murray wants to use one of two lines: Bengt Gustafsson-Mike Gartner-Yvon Corriveau or Bob Gould-Peter Sundstrom-Lou Franceschetti.

"The Federko line is playing very well together and creating a lot," Murray said. "But with {Doug} Gilmour and {Tony} Hrkac out, if you can shut down Federko, they'll struggle to score. I want to put Gould's or Gus' line against Federko a big part of the time. If Gould's line is out there too much, though, it would give them an advantage offensively.

"I'll try to read early, maybe twice through the lineup, what {St. Louis Coach} Jacques {Martin} is doing. Having two lines that can do the job makes it much harder for them to handle. And playing four lines to their three forces Jacques to make some more decisions."

While the Capitals skated today, Martin stood and made note of the line combinations, among other facts. He certainly figures to battle Murray from behind the bench more than Robbie Ftorek did in Los Angeles Wednesday.

At the start of that one, Ftorek spotted the Bernie Nicholls-Bob Bourne-Bob Carpenter line against the Gustafsson line. But when Murray substituted players after 15 seconds, Ftorek did not react and Murray knew he would have the matchups he desired the rest of the way.

The injuries do tie Martin's hands a bit and he said, "We just have no control over something like that. We have to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and move ahead. We're reduced to three lines and we're dressing seven defensemen, but we just have to overcome it."

Murray gave his team much the same advice.

"The way the league is right now, it doesn't matter who you play," Murray said. " . . . We have to do what we did in L.A. -- jump on them early and not let them get up."

Flyers 5, Penguins 4:

Derrick Smith and Mark Howe scored third-period goals and Philadelphia held on for the victory last night in Pittsburgh that extended the Penguins' winless streak to 10 games.

Smith, alone on the left side, converted Howe's pass at 7:41 for his eighth goal of the season. Howe fired in a shot from the left point during a power play at 11:00 for his ninth, giving the Flyers a 5-3 lead.

Pittsburgh's Jock Callander beat goalie Ron Hextall to a loose puck and jammed it in on a power play for his 10th goal at 13:35 of the third period. But that ended the scoring and the Penguins fell to 0-6-4 since beating Detroit on Dec. 26.

Devils 7, Maple Leafs 3: Kirk Muller had his second three-goal game in eight days and New Jersey extended Toronto's winless streak to 10 games.

Muller has nine goals and three assists in his last five games, and his three-goal performance against Toronto helped New Jersey snap a four-game losing streak at home.

The Maple Leafs are now 0-6-4 in their last 10 games.

Red Wings 2, North Stars 1: Gerard Gallant's power-play goal with 7:54 to play lifted Detroit, at home, to its fifth straight victory.

The Red Wings, 7-0-1 in their last eight games, improved to 22-16-5 overall and stretched their Norris Division lead to 10 points over idle Chicago and St. Louis. The 10-point margin is their largest of the season. Minnesota is 0-5-3 in its last eight games.

Jets 4, Oilers 4: Andrew McBain scored with 43 seconds remaining in regulation time to lift Winnipeg into a tie in a penalty-filled game in Edmonton.

McBain scored during a goalmouth scramble for his 23rd goal of the season, tying the score. Oilers goalie Grant Fuhr made 35 saves, many from close range.

The teams were assessed 162 minutes in penalties. Four players were ejected after a second-period brawl.

Flames 4, Canucks 4: Petri Skriko scored with just over five minutes remaining in the third period and Vancouver, at home, survived Calgary's power play.