Talk may be cheap, but a Terry Murray lecture on the perils of allowing opponents unlimited goals seemed to help the Washington Capitals.

The Capitals -- generous to a fault in the first three games of this young season -- played solid, if not perfect, defense, got a couple nice saves from Mike Liut and scored three straight goals to dispose of the Winnipeg Jets, 3-1, last night in front of 15,117 at Capital Centre.

The victory pulled the Capitals to the .500 level at 2-2, heading into tonight's 7:30 game against the New York Rangers.

The Capitals had allowed 15 goals in their first three games, a pace that would mean 400 over the course of an 80-game season. Defensemen and goalies usually get most of the blame in such situations, but defense is a group endeavor.

So Murray and his men talked about it quite a bit after Wednesday night's loss to the Rangers. Offense, defense, power play, the price of oil on the spot market. They covered everything, but defense was the key topic.

"Those are the things you have to talk about when you play a team like Winnipeg," Murray said.

The Jets are possibly the fastest team in perhaps the fastest division (Smythe) in the NHL. Their defensemen -- Phil Housley, Dave Ellett, Fredrik Olausson and Teppo Numminen -- are especially fond of jumping into the offensive zone and creating or finishing scoring opportunities. Defensing against them requires extra effort on the part of forwards coming back to help.

"We were a lot more disciplined and the forwards did a lot better job picking up people coming in," the Capitals' Kevin Hatcher said.

The drawback to the Jets' approach is that, if all the pressure fails, you can leave the goalie feeling lonely. That was exactly the situation when Nick Kypreos scored the winner on a breakaway against Jets goalie Stephane Beauregard with 9:09 left in the second period.

"The score was 1-1 and both teams were playing disciplined hockey," said Winnipeg Coach Bob Murdoch. "But then we broke down. We gambled and lost."

Dave McLlwain gave the Jets a 1-0 lead in the first period, only to have Kelly Miller register a power-play goal for a tie. After Kypreos put Washington ahead, Alan May finished the scoring for the Capitals. That was enough for Liut.

"We were a little smarter than we were in New York," said Liut, who is expected to start his fifth straight game tonight.

"We talked about the importance of defensive hockey, but Liut made some quality stops," Murray said. "His concentration seemed a little higher and the whole team seems to rally in those situations."

With the Capitals already shorthanded, Hatcher went deep into the Winnipeg zone looking for a pass from Mike Ridley. But when the Jets intercepted, they had a three-on-one break, with only Calle Johansson back.

Liut had no prayer as Paul Fenton fed McLlwaine for a 1-0 lead with 10:02 left. But Hatcher helped rectify the situation. His slap shot was deflected by Miller into the Jets' goal for a 1-1 tie.

Murray juggled lines a bit. Alan May -- who had been on left wing with center Peter Zezel and right wing Dino Ciccarelli -- was moved to the fourth line, where last night he joined Kypreos and Tim Bergland. Dave Tippett took May's spot on Zezel's line.

"The defensive part of {Zezel's} line wasn't happening," Murray said. "I don't want to point the finger at Alan May, but if making a change sends a message to the line, then I will. I still put Alan in during key situations late in the game to show I still have confidence in him."

As it was, the fourth line -- normally a group consigned to concentrate on defense -- provided most of the offense. Bergland set up Kypreos's breakaway, with May trailing the play in case Kypreos missed on what proved to be his second goal in four games.

Then, after John Druce pushed the puck into the Winnipeg zone and fed Dale Hunter, May took Hunter's pass at the corner of the crease, re-routing it past Beauregard with just 68 seconds left in the second period.

Being on a top line was new for May and he wants the ice time that goes with it, but he knew what he was returning to.

"I feel comfortable with that line because Bergie and Nick are reliable," May said. "They play to their limitations."

And last night, they successfully went beyond them.