The Washington Capitals have the NHL record for the most goals allowed in an 80-game season.

Their current pace, 5.0 goals per game -- won't break the record of 446 they set in their first season, but it will mean a similarly ignominious finish.

"When you have 15 goals-against in three games it is an area to start to talk about and be concerned with," Coach Terry Murray said. "No matter how happy you are with what you're trying to do offensively and the opportunities you've created, you still have to take care of home."

Lest the concern sweep anyone away, there are 77 games left in which to improve. The Capitals will try to begin that at 8 tonight when they face the Winnipeg Jets at Capital Centre.

Only Toronto and Detroit have given up more goals per game than the Capitals. Quebec has given up as many.

The reasons could be several, and involve all quarters. Defensemen have given away the puck in their own zone, or been caught in deep leaving goalie Mike Liut to face odd-man breaks. Liut has had some wonderful stretches, but also allowed one or two soft goals. Forwards have not always prevented opposing defensemen from jumping up into the play and there have been conspicuous failures to clear the puck from their zone.

There is a new mix of people on defense. Kevin Hatcher (no points, minus 6) missed most of training camp, Rod Langway missed much of the last week. Mike Lalor arrived this summer. Calle Johansson is playing more. His offensive style has had a greater impact, but there hasn't always been the strong defense to compensate. Cohesion is something for the future.

"It's a concern," Murray said. "When you get into situations where guys are thinking it's 'Me against him,' instead of us and them, you run into problems. We tried to do some individual things and it doesn't work."

The Capitals (1-2) lost, 4-2, to the New York Rangers Wednesday night. The Capitals thoroughly controlled play, outshooting the Rangers, 42-17. But the Rangers took better advantage of their chances.

"Of their 17 shots, they probably had five really quality chances and that's a high percentage," Murray said.

Tonight, the Capitals face one of the NHL's fastest teams. The aptly named Jets have defensemen who skate well and try to get involved in the offense. Winnipeg was that way a year ago, when it took eventual Stanley Cup champion Edmonton to seven games in the Smythe Division semifinals. Over the summer they traded center Dale Hawerchuk to Buffalo for Scott Arniel, Jeff Parker and Phil Housley, the fourth-highest scoring defenseman in the NHL last season.

All has not been bleak for Washington on defense. By far the brightest spot defensively has been Bob Rouse, who has had quite a week personally and professionally.

Rouse's wife, Dianne, gave birth to their first child, son Torry, on Monday. Rouse flew home from New York early yesterday to take his wife and son home from the hospital.

In Wednesday night's game, Rouse assisted on John Druce's first goal of the season. That assist gave Rouse five for the season. While he has been thought of as a solid defensive player for years, the 16 assists he had last season were his NHL high. The fact that he's tied with center Peter Zezel for the team lead in points is certainly a positive surprise and Murray is pleased with Rouse's game at both ends.

"He plays a smart game," Murray said. "He knows he's not so much of an offensive threat all the time. All he tries to do when the puck comes to him is get it through, for then you're looking for a screen or a tip. I hope that's his game plan offensively. . . . He's responding to a lot of ice time in key situations. He's coming out the winner most times. When you look at the overall play and take everything into consideration, I have to give him a very high mark right now."