MONTREAL, JAN. 13 -- Two games in two nights against two good teams served as a good example of the two personalities that seem to characterize the Washington Capitals this season.

The Calgary Flames and the Montreal Canadiens are among the top seven teams in the NHL. The Capitals played hard and efficiently in beating the Flames, 4-2, Friday in Landover. But the Capitals' other half emerged here Saturday, as they looked uninterested and ineffective in losing to the Canadiens, 4-1.

Mike Liut was in goal Saturday. He might like another crack at one of the goals he allowed, but his play was one of the positive aspects for Washington. Yet he could see the difference between the two games and it boils down to people not putting in the effort.

"Our team, if we turn the puck over in the neutral zone, will struggle offensively," Liut said. "If we struggle in the neutral zone we put pressure on ourselves defensively, because we're playing to the other team's transition game. You're also not putting any pressure on their defense. But it takes a lot of work to dump it in and chase it."

While there are tactical ways to dump and chase, and coordination is needed, effort is the main ingredient and the Capitals didn't get it Saturday.

"It takes a lot of energy to play that way," Liut said. "It is a lot easier to play" with apathy.

Some consideration can be given to the travel in between games. The team did not arrive at its hotel until early Saturday. There was no morning skate. Some players hate them anyway, but some like to get the kinks out before the game. There was no zip in the legs and reduced accuracy in passes and shots.

"Everybody was Edward Scissorhands," said Alan May.

Every team faces back-to-back games, with the second on the road, although in this case the second opponent was the hottest team in the league. Coach Terry Murray seemed frustrated with the change in effort immediately after the loss. Today, in a discussion at the airport before the team's flight to St. Louis, Murray was not as riled up, but not pleased.

Murray said: "When you come off a really good game, you always say, 'Hey, this is it. We're going to play well and get something going, maybe win half-a-dozen or seven or eight games.' But I've got to take into consideration that we played the night before with a very big effort. It's not an excuse, but a consideration.

"It's not really frustration. I was more disappointed that Montreal beat us three times this year. I look at the teams and I think we're good enough to come away with one or two wins. But they did the little things better."

The Canadiens had not swept a season series from Washington since 1976-77. The Canadiens followed Saturday night's win over the Capitals with last night's 3-1 loss to St. Louis. Montreal is now 8-2-2 in its last 12 games.

As a group, the Capitals would seem to be smart enough to know they have never been a team of snipers and speedsters. They didn't have their best playoff campaign ever last spring because they made fancy plays and picked corners.

"We're the type of team where we have to get it in and grind," Liut said. "Then throw it back to the point, get a shot, maybe a deflection. That's how we score most of our goals."

The decision to carry the puck into the opponent's zone or dump it in needs to be made very soon after crossing the redline. Liut makes the point that the puck should always end up -- whatever the method -- below the opponent's faceoff dot. It may not always generate a goal, but over the course of the game, it probably will. The wrong decision can give the opponent a good chance going the other way.

"I thought we were very efficient in the neutral zone Friday night," Liut said. "{Saturday} night, we were not. It's not a matter of 15 guys doing it. Everybody has got to be thinking and playing that way.

"In watching over the last month, we have trouble when we get away from our game. We're not a tic-tac-toe, highly skilled club. And it's important to recognize what you are and play to those strengths. When we play a game we're not as good at, it's hard, if not impossible, to win."