There are good ties and bad ties. This was a brutal tie.

The Minnesota North Stars have only won five road games this season, so for the Washington Capitals to depart Capital Centre last night with a 2-2 deadlock was nothing to brag about.

The Capitals will find some solace in the fact they had to kill more than twice as many penalties as the North Stars and because they came back in the third period. But that just meant they didn't lose.

"I sure as heck would like to win that one," Capitals Coach Terry Murray said. But later he added: "It's not a bad tie. I'll always take the point."

It is true that points have been hard to come by lately for the Capitals, who played their first home game (in front of 16,859) in two weeks. They entered the game with just one victory in their previous five, including a 6-1 loss Thursday night in Philadelphia.

Among the defeats was a 5-2 result eight days ago in Bloomington, Minn. The North Stars are 19th overall in the league.

"We had chances to win the game," North Stars goalie Brian Hayward said. "For us to tie on the road is a real positive feeling for us."

The Capitals' two goals represented both ends of the spectrum. Al Iafrate, in his first Capital Centre appearance since last week's trade from Toronto, scored the game's first goal on two great moves after carrying the puck from his blueline.

Dino Ciccarelli, who had not scored a goal in his last six games, was credited with one that replays showed went in off his foot.

"But I was twisting at the time," Ciccarelli said, meaning it was an unintentional kick.

Ciccarelli's goal tied the game at 2. Before that, the North Stars got goals by Ulf Dahlen and Brian Propp.

The one point derived from the tie nudged the Capitals (22-26-3) to within three points of fourth-place and idle New Jersey in the Patrick Division race.

The Devils will meet the North Stars tonight, while the Capitals next play Sunday at 12:05 p.m. against the New York Islanders.

In searching for answers to the Capitals' plight, Murray left defenseman Mike Lalor out of the lineup and used newly acquired defenseman Ken Sabourin.

Sabourin was acquired Thursday from Calgary in exchange for Paul Fenton, whom the Capitals got earlier in the day from Toronto (along with John Kordic). Sabourin, who was playing with the Flames' IHL farm club in Salt Lake City, learned of the deal when he got off a bus in Kalamazoo, Mich. He met Murray about 4:30 yesterday afternoon and played a solid game.

"It was good to play right away. You don't have time to think about it," Sabourin said. "You play a basic game. I felt comfortable because they {teammates} were talking to me and helping me out."

Sabourin was acquired to provide a strong physical presence. He was paired for much of the night with Iafrate, who was acquired to do many things, including make great plays. That is what he did on the first goal. He stepped around Chris Dahlquist, deked Hayward and scored his first goal as a Capital for a 1-0 lead with 3:02 gone in the second.

But Dahlen countered with a move around Mark Ferner to tie the game with 8:08 left in the second period. The North Stars had nine power plays and they converted on the first of the third period as Propp scored with a nifty shot after a nice feed from Aaron Broten. Ciccarelli then tied it with 9:19 left.

"Things aren't going good for the team offensively," Ciccarelli said. "We've got to go to the net and get rebounds. That's how we got goals in the playoffs last year."

But they aren't getting many goals now. They have scored just 11 in their last six games, including last night. The power play unit, which was zero for four last night, has failed to score in its last 23 attempts. Although that crew has made a tremendous improvement from last season, the team has come to rely on it in this campaign.

"The offensive part of the game is something we've talked about," Murray said. "But when it comes down to a split-second decision on a shot, I can't make that decision. We had some great scoring opportunities. But why does the batter go into a slump in the World Series?"