BLOOMINGTON, MINN., JAN. 17 -- When Washington Capitals General Manager David Poile spoke of Wednesday's big trade, he said Al Iafrate should not be viewed as a savior or the prescription for all that ails this team. The ways things are going now, it is clearly too big of a job for one person.

The Minnesota North Stars hadn't won at Met Center since Dec. 15 and they had been victors only once in their last 10 games, but they handed the Capitals their third straight loss, 5-2, tonight in front of 6,301.

This time, Washington's main problem was not converting scoring opportunities. The Capitals had plenty of those, but scored only one goal with a shot and another with a kick. Their power play was nonexistent. When they got just one shot and no goals in a five-minute power play at the end of the second period, the trend was set.

"As far as hard work and effort and chances, there is no way you can do anything more than our team did in the first two periods," Capitals Coach Terry Murray said.

The North Stars had a 3-2 lead by the end of two periods, but they sealed the victory by killing the five-minute major and then getting clinching goals by Dave Gagner and Doug Smail.

"Another masterpiece," Capitals goalie Don Beaupre said sarcastically of himself and the team. Beaupre, who was pulled after about 10 minutes of the first period in Tuesday's 7-3 loss in St. Louis, had hoped to rebound, get the Capitals a victory and show folks here the North Stars were wrong in giving up on him in 1988.

"It's worn off but it's always nice to win here," said Beaupre, who will spend this weekend's all-star break in the area visiting his two children. "I'll be here and I would have liked to win. But we have deeper problems than that."

Such as?

"We have zero confidence right now," he said. "It will take a few wins to get back. We don't want to win badly enough right now."

Brian Bellows and Ulf Dahlen scored to give the North Stars a 2-0 lead, but the Capitals tied it on goals by Michal Pivonka and Kelly Miller. But the Capitals, who have not led in their last three games, couldn't get over the hump because they were making Brian Hayward look like an all-star.

Dimitri Khristich walked around a defenseman and put a shot in the glove. Iafrate, who had an assist on Pivonka's goal, sent John Druce in ahead of the crowd, but Druce hit Hayward in his stomach.

Iafrate was acquired from Toronto Wednesday for defenseman Bob Rouse and center Peter Zezel. Murray decided to pair Iafrate with Kevin Hatcher, creating what is likely the tallest defensive pair in the league. The two were teammates when they were 16 and playing midget hockey in Detroit for the Compuware team.

"They both have size and skill," Murray said. "I can close my eyes and picture them playing together and being a great pair."

Murray now has four defenseman he wants to use on the power play, so he used three at a time in stretches. Calle Johansson worked as a forward. Murray liked the idea, but not the result -- zero for seven.

"No good," Mikhail Tatarinov said of the results in his limited but appropriate English.

Bellows's goal went in off his leg for 1-0 lead after the Capitals had controlled the early flow, outshooting the Stars, 9-2. Then Dahlen put in a rebound for a 2-0 lead.

Pivonka put in a rebound of Dave Tippett's shot and then Miller tied it by kicking in the puck with his right foot. The Stars objected, but referee Kerry Fraser let the goal stand. But just 66 seconds later, Mike Craig got the eventual game-winner.

The Capitals had their five-minute power play late in the second (and 22 seconds of the third), but got nothing and had nothing after it. Dale Hunter then lost the puck and Gagner put a knuckleball past Beaupre.

"They intercept a pass and it's a soft goal," Murray said.

The next one wasn't, for Smail scored a shorthanded breakway goal to add ugliness to the unpleasant situation.

Capitals Notes:

Peter Bondra injured his shoulder when he was cross-checked by Smail. . . . With the all-star break, the Capitals will be off until Monday when they work out in preparation for Tuesday's game in Detroit.