CHICAGO, DEC. 18 -- Don Beaupre was on the bench Monday night at Madison Square Garden when the Washington Capitals played the New York Rangers. Like any competitor, Beaupre would rather have been playing. But with all the Rangers flying past him on breakaways toward Mike Liut, he didn't feel particularly jealous.

"I was thinking the best place for me was right there on the bench," Beaupre said today.

Liut had a number of great saves. Rangers captain Kelly Kisio alone had a week's worth of frustration. But New York had enough good chances to come away with a 5-3 victory, its third in four games against the Capitals this season.

The Capitals arrived here this afternoon and will play the Blackhawks Wednesday at 8:35 p.m. at Chicago Stadium. To end their two-game losing streak, they'll have to do a much better job in their own end than they did in losing to Hartford and New York.

Capitals Coach Terry Murray complimented Liut on his play, but now that both Liut and Beaupre are healthy, Murray is trying to establish a pattern of alternating goalies no matter the outcome.

Although the Capitals lost the Rangers game because they yielded too many opportunities, they also may have lost the battle of body checks. The Rangers had most of their heavyweights -- Kris King, Troy Mallette, Mark Janssons, Tie Domi -- on the ice frequently.

Officials generally are clamping down on rough play, but there is a long way still to go. And the Rangers and New Jersey Devils each have taken steps this season to become more physical.

Why? Because both were eliminated by the Capitals in the playoffs last spring, and both felt Washington had a physical edge.

Conversely, the several changes in the Capitals' lineup since last spring probably have made them more of a finesse team.

Mikhail Tatarinov is a potent offensive threat and Mike Lalor is steady in a defensive-oriented role, but neither consistently delivers the bone-jarring checks Scott Stevens did. Rookie Peter Bondra may be a scorer, but he's not a fighter.

The newest Soviet, left wing Dimitri Khristich, probably will make his NHL debut against the Blackhawks, but hard hits are not why the Capitals wanted him. Peter Zezel can be a physical player, but he hasn't played in about seven weeks and might not for a couple more games. Defenseman Neil Sheehy has also been out of the lineup.

Murray said he and General Manager David Poile have discussed the matter, in conversations about trade possibilities. But Murray said he thinks he has the players to make do.

"It's not so much dropping the gloves and fighting," Murray said. "It's more just finishing the checks. Kris King was running into everybody. He distracts you from your game."

With center Dale Hunter and wingers Alan May, Nick Kypreos and Tim Bergland, the Capitals do have some solid hitters. But good forechecking, a big reason for the Capitals' playoff success, has to be a team-wide proposition.

"If a forward gets hit enough, he might say: 'Maybe I'll try the other side,' " Murray said. "As {the late} Fred Shero said: 'You have to arrive, and arrive in ill humor.' "