QUEBEC CITY, DEC. 29 -- The Washington Capitals once again showed that they do not discriminate -- they can lose to the bad teams as easily as they can to the good ones.
The Quebec Nordiques were at the bottom of the NHL list coming into this encounter, but they lifted their game enough to extend the Capitals' winless streak to eight games (0-7-1), 4-3. It was Washington's fourth consecutive defeat.
The Capitals had a relatively better effort in Friday's 5-3 loss to the Patrick Division-leading New York Rangers. But 24 hours later they were flat. Maybe it was the 4 a.m. arrival at the hotel after the charter flight from Washington, but then again traveling is part of the business.
The Nordiques, who were 0-3-1 in their previous four, got goals from Mike Hough (two), Joe Sakic and Curtis Leschyshyn. Dimitri Khristich, Bob Joyce and Dino Ciccarelli were the only Capitals to beat Quebec's Ron Tugnutt.
Quebec scored the first three goals of the game. The Capitals closed to within 3-2, and then to 4-3 on Ciccarelli's third-period goal, but they could not draw even.
Capitals Coach Terry Murray had been alternating goaltenders, but Don Beaupre relieved Mike Liut Wednesday, played Friday against the Rangers and was in net again tonight.
"I'd like to get somebody or something to rally around, and if one goaltender feels he will be in for a few games in a row, it may get the intensity up," Murray said before the game. "It's just a feeling. Both goalies played really well on the road trip. I couldn't ask for more from either."
The Capitals played without Peter Zezel, who slightly reinjured his left ankle in Friday night's game when he was hit by Normand Rochefort.
"I hope it will be just a day," Murray said. But Zezel wasn't the only lineup change as Murray searched for a solution to the losing streak.
Rookie Peter Bondra, who had just one goal and two assists in the last 13 games, was scratched from the lineup. Tim Bergland played for only the third time in 10 games.
"The line isn't generating enough together or as much as before Pivonka got injured," Murray said of the threesome of Bondra, center Michal Pivonka and left wing Kelly Miller. "Right now, the chemistry isn't there. A big part of why Peter is with us is the offensive part of the game."
The offensive part of the Capitals' game was completely missing from the first period. Ciccarelli had his shot from eight feet deflect off the stick of Quebec's Steve Finn, who was sitting on the ice. Ciccarelli stood staring at Tugnutt, probably wondering where all the magic had gone.
Conversely, the Nordiques were fluid and took advantage of their chances. Sakic went around Ciccarelli and sent a cross-slot pass past Kevin Hatcher that Hough put in the open side for a 1-0 lead with 5:53 gone in the game.
The hole got deeper when Hatcher carried in deep during a shorthanded situation. He got nowhere, Quebec went the other way and Sakic scored when his centering pass went off Rod Langway's skate and into the net.
The 2-0 lead went to 3-0 with just 1:28 gone in the second period. Mikhail Tatarinov failed to clear the zone and Mats Sundin fed a wide-open Hough, who one-timed a slap shot past Beaupre.
Khristich has a stretch to go, but at times seems to get better by the shift. He started the play for his own goal, intercepting a Nordiques pass at their blueline. But he pushed the puck to Mike Ridley, who went to Bob Rouse at the point. After his pass, Khristich had gone to the net and was there to deflect in Rouse's slap shot for his second goal in as many games.
That seemed to give some spark to the otherwise flat Capitals. They built on it -- and a fight by Rouse -- with another goal. Dale Hunter dished to Joyce, who beat Tugnutt with a slap shot from the top of the circle.
That cut the deficit to 3-2 with 7:43 left, but again, a failure to clear their zone hurt the Capitals. Leschyshyn collected the puck at the point and fired a slap shot that hit somebody's stick and zipped past Beaupre for a 4-2 Quebec lead with 4:57 left in the second period.
Stung, the Capitals were lucky to be down by only two at the second intermission, as Beaupre made four excellent stops in the last few minutes.
Capitals Notes: Shawn Anderson -- whom the Capitals acquired in the preseason trade for Bill Houlder only to lose a day later to Quebec in the waiver draft -- had an assist on Sakic's goal. This was only his fifth game with the Nordiques. . . . If you don't think Nordiques fans still miss Dale Hunter here, you only had to hear the applause when his name was announced.