The Washington Capitals dream about turning Capital Centre into a black hole for opposing teams.

"We'd love to be able to get a kind of psychological thing going, where people are little intimidated by having to play us in our building," defenseman Scott Stevens said. "But there's only one way to do that -- win."

Against the Winnipeg Jets, that is precisely what the Capitals have done.

Going into tonight's game between the teams at Capital Centre (7:35), the Capitals are 10-2-1 at home against Winnipeg. Since they began playing Winnipeg in 1979-80, the Capitals have defeated the Jets at Capital Centre at least once every season.

During the last three-plus seasons Washington is 3-2 against the Jets at Capital Centre and 0-3-2 against the Jets at Winnipeg Arena, where the Capitals have not won since Oct. 30, 1983. On Oct. 30, 1987, Washington lost at Winnipeg, 3-2, in overtime.

A few things were unusual about that night. Assistant coach Terry Murray directed the Capitals because brother Bryan was serving the second of a three-game suspension he received for a run-in with a referee in Buffalo on Oct. 11. Washington lost after tying the score on goals 21 seconds apart by Dave Christian and Dale Hunter with less than four minutes left in regulation. Also, the game-winning goal was set up by a penalty -- Greg Smith's tripping foul 53 seconds into overtime.

As usual, however, Jets center Dale Hawerchuk was the star. He assisted on Winnipeg's first goal and scored its last. For the season, he has compiled 27 goals and 45 assists for 72 points -- a total that places him fifth in the NHL in scoring.

In his seventh season with the Jets, Hawerchuk already holds 19 club records. He has totaled 100 or more points in five of his first six NHL seasons, including each of the last four.

"He's been around the league long enough that it's difficult to get him off his game by slashing him a little bit more or holding him a little bit more," said Bob Gould, the right wing on the Capitals' checking line. "And you can't really shadow him because playing one-on-one is not his game. He tends to dish it off more."

Winnipeg's problem is Hawerchuk doesn't receive much support. The Jets' second-leading scorer, right wing Paul MacLean has just 48 points (21 goals, 27 assists). Defenseman Dave Ellett is third with 39 points (7, 32), defenseman Randy Carlyle fourth with 38 (8, 30).

Also, the Jets (20-21-6, 46 standings points) have the misfortune of being in the same division as the Calgary Flames, who are tied with the Montreal Canadiens for the NHL's best record (62 points), and the Edmonton Oilers, who are tied with the Boston Bruins for the league's third-best record (61 points). Of course, Winnipeg doesn't exactly help itself when it loses at home to teams like the Los Angeles Kings, something it did Sunday.

Perhaps, then, the best thing the Capitals can do tonight is keep things simple and take advantage of whatever opportunities the Jets present them.

"I think if we can put some pressure on their defensemen, we can get some turnovers and then go from there," defenseman Kevin Hatcher said. "It seems like whenever we try to do too much we get ourselves into trouble. If we just work hard and try not to do too much, it becomes an easy game."

Capitals Notes:

Center Michal Pivonka, who missed the Capitals' 3-3 tie with Buffalo Saturday night because of a pulled back muscle, skated yesterday during the team's workout at Mount Vernon Ice Rink.

"It's still a little bit stiff," Pivonka said. "It's better than it was yesterday {Sunday}, but still can't shoot as hard as normal or turn my body as well. I think by tomorrow {today}, I'll be ready, though."

Oilers 6, Penguins 4:

Dave Hannan recorded his first career hat trick and fellow ex-Penguin Marty McSorley added a third-period goal last night, sending Edmonton to a win over host Pittsburgh in the first meeting of the teams since the Paul Coffey trade.

Hannan, who spent seven seasons with the Penguins and was one of the players in the Nov. 24 deal, scored his three goals in the first period. The Penguins' Coffey totaled one goal and two assists against the team for which he played seven seasons.

Sabres 5, Devils 2:

Doug Smith had a goal and an assist to spark a three-goal first period that sent visiting Buffalo to a triumph over New Jersey.

Flames 11, Maple Leafs 3:

Dana Murzyn and rookies Brett Hull and Joe Nieuwendyk collected two goals apiece, and visiting Calgary scored six goals in the first period in a rout of Toronto.