Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee is awaiting disciplinary action from the NHL for an incident involving him and several members of the Chicago Blackhawks following a preseason game Saturday night in Columbus, Ohio.

The league is investigating reports by several Blackhawks who said McPhee punched their coach, Lorne Molleken, after the Capitals' fight-marred 3-1 victory at Value City Arena. The altercation apparently stemmed from the Capitals' belief that the Blackhawks dressed a lineup loaded with enforcers and were attempting to injure Washington players.

McPhee went to the Blackhawks' dressing room to confront the coaching staff immediately after the game, and several Blackhawks alleged McPhee hit Molleken in the eye before being surrounded by about a dozen Chicago players and staff. Punches were exchanged, McPhee's suit was nearly ripped in half and police had to pull him from the scuffle.

No charges were filed, police said, and the NHL will not comment on the matter until the investigation is complete.

Molleken's eye reportedly was discolored yesterday. McPhee, who likely will face at least a fine, declined to comment, and the team is withholding formal comment until the league concludes its investigation.

The Blackhawks have been involved in several melees during the preseason, including a brawl-filled game last weekend, and sources said the league already was watching them closely. Mike Murphy, a league vice president, was at Saturday night's game for that very reason and, sources said, he told the Capitals after the game that he found Chicago's tactics inappropriate.

Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz voiced his displeasure yesterday about McPhee's postgame actions through team spokesman Jim DeMaria: "He said he's quite shocked by the turn of events [Saturday] night, because we've always had a very amicable relationship with Washington. He said he's even more appalled because Lorne Molleken left his dad's deathbed--where he's been for the last week because his dad is gravely ill--to coach in the game [Saturday] night. It's no different between players and managers--if you take on one person in the organization you're taking on everybody, because we're a team."

Likewise, McPhee's actions apparently are well-supported within the Capitals organization.

"I'm upset that George didn't tell us he was doing that, because I think you would have seen the whole staff march down there [with him]," Coach Ron Wilson said. "I'm 100 percent for what George did. There will be people out there saying you're not supposed to do things like that, but George went in there and stood up for the whole team. That's an amazing act of courage. The way Chicago played just isn't right. There's no place for that. . . . I'm proud of George for doing what he did. It might be wrong, but it was right. I'm just mad George didn't extend the invitation to us."

McPhee had phoned Chicago General Manager Bob Murray on Wednesday in hopes of preempting an ugly game, sources said. McPhee had asked Murray to use skilled players, rather than those who tended to rely on physical play, since the Capitals intended to dress Peter Bondra, Adam Oates and Sergei Gonchar in order to give fans a quality performance (the Columbus Blue Jackets enter the NHL next season).

When the Capitals saw a lineup with Bob Probert, Reid Simpson, Dave Manson, Remi Royer and minor league enforcer Nathan Perrott--players who contribute little beyond fisticuffs--Washington scratched its top players. Blackhawks sources said they wanted to rest key players for Sunday's home game and needed to use even the most marginal players during a stretch of four games in five nights.

Saturday's game was filled with constant penalties and scrums, as well as five fights. The Blackhawks produced just 10 shots in two periods while being called for 14 penalties.

The Capitals had few fighters in the lineup besides minor leaguer Trevor Halverson. He fought Mark Janssens 33 seconds into the game and a few shifts after returning from the penalty box he dropped the gloves with Perrott.

Players are automatically ejected for fighting three times in a game, and the Capitals believe Chicago spent the rest of the game trying to goad Halverson into a fight. Royer fought Halverson early in third period, knocking him to the ice with a punch.

"I suppose I could maybe see doing that kind of stuff if you're maybe trying to intimidate the other team completely because you need to win a game to get into the playoffs," Wilson said. "Maybe in a playoff game. But come on, it's an exhibition game in a city where you're trying to sell the game."

By the time the game ended, the Capitals were fuming over several incidents. Manson was suspended by the league pending a hearing for what appeared to be a sucker punch thrown at Steve Konowalchuk in the second period. Manson was assessed a match penalty for "attempt to injure." Janssens drew a penalty for running into goalie Olaf Kolzig with about two minutes left in the game and the result already decided. After that, sources said, McPhee visited Wilson on the bench and they discussed pulling the team from the ice before the end of the game.