For now, it's not a problem. But the way rookie goalie Jim Hrivnak is playing, the Washington Capitals soon will have one of those pleasant predicaments.

With Hrivnak playing his third-straight strong and frequently spectacular game, the Capitals used a three-goal, 21-second burst of scoring to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 7-3, last night in front of 16,183 at Capital Centre.

"You want offense -- boy, was that wide open," Capitals Coach Terry Murray said.

The Penguins, with three of the NHL's top 10 scorers and the always-threatening Paul Coffey, often thrive in that setting. They had beaten the Capitals, 7-4, in the season opener here. But this time, it was the Capitals offense's turn to shine.

After Coffey cut into the Capitals' 2-0 lead, Washington decided things with the three quick goals. (The 10 seconds separating the second and third goals set a team record.)

"We just got whipped," said Pittsburgh Coach Bob Johnson.

Said Dale Hunter: "We got a couple of even-strength goals and then boom, boom, the three goals put them out of reach. But the difference was Jim Hrivnak making the big saves early."

After Kelly Miller ended a personal scoring drought, Hrivnak made four great saves, the first coming on a breakaway by Mark Recchi. Recchi later scored two goals, but by then it didn't matter.

"After I stopped the breakaway, I thought I would have a good game," said Hrivnak.

With Don Beaupre recovering from a pulled groin, Hrivnak almost surely will start his fourth straight game when these teams meet again at 8 tonight at Civic Arena in Pittsburgh. But when Beaupre is healthy, the Capitals will have three goaltenders, including Mike Liut, and keeping three goalies never has been their plan.

Steve Leach scored twice for the Capitals, who also got goals by Mike Ridley, Kevin Hatcher, Michal Pivonka and Bob Rouse.

Miller had scored three goals in the first four games, but only one since. Ridley had scored four goals in the first eight games, but only once since. But then both are asked to be responsible, defensive players.

With 1:57 gone, Miller blasted a slap shot past Frank Pietrangelo for a 1-0 lead. Hrivnak then stopped Recchi, Kevin Stevens, Joe Mullen and Zarley Zalapski.

"Any time you have a goalie make stops like that, it gives everybody confidence," Ridley said.

Hatcher scored the Capitals' second shorthanded goal of the season with 11:07 left in the first period.

Then came an odd sequence of events. With 8:38 left, referee Denis Morel sent Capitals Nick Kypreos and Alan May, and Penguins Jay Caufield, to the penalty box for roughing. But no power play time appeared on the scoreboard. Play resumed only to have officials stop the action and say the Capitals had too many players on the ice.

John D'Amico, an NHL supervisor of officials, said Morel notified Rouse that it was a penalty, asking him which of the players (May or Kypreos) the team wanted released should the Penguins score. D'Amico said that once play resumed, Murray saw no penalty on the scoreboard and put another skater on the ice, creating the penalty situation. D'Amico said the penalty timekeeper, who is working with a new scoreboard, should have notified the on-ice officials that there was a problem. A Capitals spokesman said that the scoreboard controls don't allow a penalty timekeeper to sound a horn once the game clock begins running again.

Down two men, Hrivnak made two great saves on Coffey and Stevens. But with Hrivnak caught in a pileup, Coffey scored. That cut the deficit to 2-1 with 6:36 left in the first period. In another situation, that mix-up, misunderstanding and resulting goal might have cost the Capitals a game. But this quickly became no contest.

Pivonka deflected John Druce's shot past Pietrangelo for a power-play goal with 3:42 left. Eleven second later, Leach snapped a shot past the goalie. Ten seconds after that, Leach poked the rebound of a Ridley shot in for a 5-1 lead.

Pietrangelo was pulled for Wendel Young to start the second, but the game was over. Recchi and Ridley scored in the second. Rouse and Recchi scored in the third. But Hrivnak was the reason for the win.

Asked if he thought he was making it difficult for Murray to choose a goalie, Hrivnak smiled and said, "I hope so."

At 16:18 of the first period, Michal Pivonka scores with assists from John Druce and Kevin Hatcher.

Steve Leach scores at 16:29 from Mike Ridley and Bob Rouse.

The same threesome -- Leach from Ridley and Rouse -- scores at 16:39. 1984: 39 SECONDS

Gaeten Duchense scores with 2:39 gone in the third period against the Edmonton Oilers on Feb. 5.

Twenty-one seconds later, at 3:00 of the third period, Bob Carpenter scores.

The third in the series comes at 3:18 of the third period, scored by Mike Gartner.