A day after a disappointing 3-2 loss to Winnipeg, the Washington Capitals went searching for answers yesterday in a day that included a midday practice at Mount Vernon and more than a bit of soul searching.

Their longest homestand of the season began last week with high hopes and a 6-4 victory over New Jersey. But since then, they've been tied by Buffalo and beaten by Winnipeg, two teams they expected to beat on home ice.

Boos filled Capital Centre for much of the third period Tuesday as the Capitals suffered their 13th one-goal loss of the season and dropped back to .500 (22-22-6), where they've spent a large part of the season. Now, comes the hard part. The Montreal Canadiens come to Capital Centre on Friday and then the Philadelphia Flyers visit at noon Sunday.

The game against the Flyers begins the season's home stretch for the Capitals, who play 20 of their final 29 games against Patrick Division opponents. That's especially important because after Tuesday's games, only 14 points separated first and last place in the division. The Capitals were six points out of first and eight out of last.

"The year, unfortunately, has been a rollercoaster," General Manager David Poile said yesterday. "We've had our peaks and valleys, and through 50 games, we're still at .500. I'm certainly not happy there or with the way we've played the last seven or eight games. But it's not far off how the rest of the league is doing. The troubling part is that we've lost so many one-goal games, and those are the ones we seemed to win in the past."

After Tuesday's game, Coach Bryan Murray made no attempt to control his temper, telling reporters, "There's some responsibility on my shoulders. Sure there is. But some is in that {locker} room as well. They're professionals and have got to be ready to play. We can prepare them, show them videotapes and all that, but they're the ones who have to get mentally prepared."

Who is to blame? Apparently, everyone.

On Tuesday, Washington outshot Winnipeg, 36-24, but needed a goal by Mike Gartner with 59 seconds remaining just to get within one goal. That came after goalie Clint Malarchuk had been removed to get an extra shooter into the game.

The Capitals also had their chances, getting one goal out of six power-play chances.

"If there ever seemed to be a game where something was going to go wrong, that was it," Poile said. "How many passes went over our sticks? It's not that just one or two players are struggling. It's a majority of the team that's having problems, and that's hard to accept."

Dave Christian's power-play goal got the Capitals into a 1-1 tie 3:27 into the second period, but the Jets scored twice in a six-minute stretch late in the period to clinch the victory.

The first of those goals came 10:04 into the period when Dale Hawerchuk caught a deflected pass on the left side and skated down the ice and routinely flipped it behind Rod Langway and past Malarchuk for his 28th goal.

Then 14:25 into the period, Langway was called for holding, and the Jets got the power-play goal at 16:07 after Ray Neufeld missed a slap shot from the left side. Malarchuk knocked the puck back in front of the net, but rookie Iain Duncan came across and pushed the puck between three Capitals for his 14th goal.

"We've been a little flat, no question about it," Langway said. "We just couldn't get going. Winnipeg played a typical road game. They played conservatively and capitalized on our mistakes."

Canadiens 4, Sabres 1:

Claude Lemieux, who has 15 points in his last 12 games, scored twice as Montreal snapped the Sabres' home winning streak at six games.

Lemieux scored Montreal's first two goals -- his 20th and 21st of the season -- as the Adams Division-leading Canadiens took a three-point lead over second-place Boston and a 10-point lead over third-place Buffalo.

Earlier, Montreal traded veteran right wing Chris Nilan to the New York Rangers.

In exchange, the Canadiens acquired the right to switch first-round draft picks with the Rangers in the 1989 NHL entry draft.

The Rangers, last in the Patrick Division, sent their first-round pick in 1988 to Quebec last summer as compensation for signing Nordiques' Coach Michel Bergeron.

Jets 4, Penguins 1:

Dale Hawerchuk scored his 29th goal and set up Frederick Olausson's tie-breaking goal as Winnipeg won in Pittsburgh.

Mario Lemieux scored his 48th goal for the Penguins.

Maple Leafs 5, Kings 2:

Right wing Mike Blaisdell, who was just called up from the minors Tuesday, scored two goals as host Toronto broke a 15-game winless streak.

The Maple Leafs had lost their six previous games to set a club record for longest winless streak by going 0-11-4 since Dec. 23.

The win also ended a 0-7-4 home-ice slump .

North Stars 2, Islanders 1:

Brian MacLellan scored as time expired, capping a two-goal rally in the last five minutes, to lift Minnesota in Bloomington.

Flames 5, Whalers 1:

Gary Suter assisted on three goals to lift Calgary over visiting Hartford snapping the Whalers' five-game winning streak.

The Flames, who raised their lead in the Smythe Division to three points over the idle Edmonton Oilers, led 3-0 after the first period. Hakan Loob scored his 29th goal of the season, a 15-foot hot through Hartford goaltender Mike Liut's legs with Calgary playing short-handed. The goal gave Loob 300 career points.