CALGARY, OCT. 27 -- "That was a bad one," goalie Mike Liut said.

Bad, indeed. Try nine goals bad.

High and low, early and late, through traffic and on breakaways, the Calgary Flames scored every which way en route to a 9-4 pasting of the Washington Capitals tonight in front of 20,088 NHL fans at the Saddledome.

Capitals Coach Terry Murray tried to displace his anger. He ranted and raved about the Flames running up the score instead of examining why they had such a score to run up. With one or two exceptions, he could have said only worse things about his team.

"With four seconds left in the game, they had their big line out there as well as {Flames' leading scorer Al} MacInnis," Murray said. "They tried to run up the score. Risebrough is going to get his. That's all I'm going to say."

Doug Risebrough is a rookie coach. He said he made a mistake in having MacInnis out for a faceoff with four seconds left, but defended the idea that he and his team did not let up.

"The lines were coming out as they were," he said. "I didn't make any changes. On the MacInnis thing, I'm learning.

"I looked at the clock at one point and I thought there were 30 seconds to go. Then I looked up and there were only four. I tried to get him back off the ice and it was just too late.

"But as a coach it's my job to {keep competing} and I told the players that I wanted them to push right through to the end. How can I have a double standard and not do that? I just played the lines as they were going."

They were going just fine.

The Flames' top line of Joe Nieuwendyk, Sergei Makarov and Gary Roberts had been as dry as one of the Chinook winds that blow into this city off the Rockies. Tonight, they and the rest of the Flames got well, scoring more goals than a Capitals team has allowed in more than five years. A 9-6 loss in Philadelphia on March 7, 1985, was the last time the Capitals were so generous.

For Washington, there was pain to go with the agony.

John Druce, the Capitals' leading scorer, spent the last 44:39 in the locker room after being checked into the boards by Jamie Macoun. Druce slumped to the ice and appreared woozy before skating off. He needed a couple stitches to sew up the back of his head.

"I think so," he said when asked if he will be able to play Sunday night when the Capitals try to recover from this debacle against the Oilers in Edmonton.

Though it seemed as if the Flames were in control throughout, this game was tied until four seconds were left in the first period. That's when Paul Ranheim scored for the Flames, who never looked back.

They scored three goals in the first 4:37 of the second period to end any debate.

Nieuwendyk had two goals, and nearly everybody else scored one. Makarov and Roberts scored, as did Brian MacLellan, Robert Reichel, Ken Sabourin, MacInnis and Ranheim.

Six other players had assists.

Only four of the 18 Calgary skaters did not get a point.

Plucky Dave Tippett was the lone bit of happiness for the Capitals. He scored his first two goals in a Washington uniform.

Peter Bondra and Steve Leach scored the other Washington goals. Leach had not made one in the first 11 games and was demoted to the fourth line to start tonight's contest. He moved up when Druce left the game.

The Capitals had won three in a row until Thursday's 3-2 overtime loss in Chicago. But even in that defeat they played quite well. They played solid, if not perfect, defense and pressured the opposition. Tonight they had nothing, and against the favorites for the Stanley Cup, that can be dangerous.

"We didn't seem to have any bounce or any step," Liut said.

The bad signs came early. MacInnis has perhaps the best slap shot in the NHL. In the very first minute, the Capitals gave him about an acre to turn, wind up or blast one by Liut.

"Right from the first shift," Bob Rouse said. "As Terry said between periods, I guess we weren't too prepared for it tonight. I don't know if it was a lack of morning skate or what. I don't know the reason, but it was apparent we were not ready."

The Capitals even got to face backup goalie Steve Guenette instead of Calgary's number one, Mike Vernon.

The Flames broke open a 2-2 game with Ranheim's goal with four seconds left in the first period. After that, they were gone.

The Flames have not set a blistering pace early in the season, though they were in second place at the beginning of the day and this victory nudged them ahead of idle Los Angeles into first place in the Smythe Division.

Their Nieuwendyk, Roberts and Makarov line was sputtering. Roberts had not had a goal and Makarov was unhappy the line wasn't getting so much ice time.

"I don't understand the new coach," Makarov said of Risebrough in this morning's Calgary Herald. "I feel good but I have to play more."

MacInnis has perhaps the best slap shot of any defenseman in the NHL. So it made no sense that he had all sorts of room to fire at goalie Mike Liut for a 1-0 lead with 54 seconds gone in the game.

If the Nieuwendyk line goes on to greatness, they may look back at this game as a starting point. But then they won't always get as much help as the Capitals gave them.