HARTFORD, NOV. 17 -- When it counted, the Washington Capitals could not make, marshal or muster any offense. By the time they showed what they had, which wasn't much, it was too late.

The Hartford Whalers ruined a homecoming for three Capitals while handing the entire squad its fifth straight defeat, 4-2, in front of 12,061 at Hartford Civic Center.

The Capitals had a few decent chances in the first two periods, but Whalers goalie Peter Sidorkiewicz had less to worry about than his counterpart and former Whaler, Mike Liut.

"We had control the first three quarters, really until the third period," said the Whalers Kevin Dineen, who scored the second of four straight Hartford goals.

The Capitals went nearly 50 minutes without a goal. When it arrived, it was courtesy of the fourth line, Nick Kypreos in particular. Defenseman Mikhail Tatarinov scored his third goal in as many games, but this affair was long since over by that stage.

The defensive mistakes -- of which there were enough -- became more glaring when there was little to offset them at the other end.

"It's not us," Capitals Coach Terry Murray said. "It's the quality goaltending in that situation. We can't get a break."

Sidorkiewicz is no threat to win the Vezina Trophy and the Whalers are unlikely to be playing the last week in May. But when a team is struggling as the Capitals are, every opponent seems mighty.

"It's not going to be easy," said Murray, whose team will try to end this losing streak Monday night in Detroit. "We're just going to have to keep working hard to turn it around. It will come."

Doug Crossman, Dineen, Pat Verbeek and Ron Francis scored for the Whalers, who have won four in a row.

These teams play each other only three times, but tonight's meeting was akin to a reunion, with a slew of players who had worn the opponent's jersey at some point.

Liut went to Washington in the March 5 trade that sent Yvon Corriveau to the Whalers. Left wing Dave Tippett was traded to the Capitals on Sept. 30 for a sixth-round draft pick in 1992. Three days later veteran defenseman Joel Quenneville went south for future considerations.

The Whalers who had been in the Capitals organization included Sidorkiewicz, Dean Evason, Grant Jennings and Corriveau.

"It felt a little strange coming in," Tippett said. "But the team needing a win was stronger than the funny feeling. We've got to get a win and get us out of this little slide."

The five-game losing streak comes after a five-game winning streak. Rod Langway (blurred vision) did not play for the third straight game and he won't play Monday.

"We're a little short," Liut said. "Some of the injuries are catching up to us. We're asking the same people to do the same job every night."

As in Friday night's 4-3 loss to Chicago, the Capitals fell behind early. Crossman followed up a Whalers' break by scoring from the slot with 9:29 left in the period. Just 25 seconds later, Paul Cyr push the puck past Quenneville to Dineen for essentially a breakaway.

"Mike moves his feet so well, you've got to get it up on him," Dineen said of his friend. "Coming down, everybody in the building, including he and I, knew were I was going with it."

Verbeek snapped a shot past Liut after intercepting Kevin Hatcher's pass at the Capitals' blueline, for a 3-0 lead in the second period. Todd Krygier fed Francis for another breakaway goal with 5:18 left in the second.

That was Hartford's first four-goal lead since Feb. 18th, and the Whalers couldn't deal with it. Kypreos converted Rob Murray's pass to ruin Sidorkiewicz's shutout with 11:07 left. Just 57 seconds later, Tatarinov scored on a backhand.

The Capitals complained about a holding penalty late in the game against Tatarinov, but it had the taste of sour grapes.

"We've just got to work out way through the hard times," Murray said. "We'll enjoy the good times when they come."