Flyers 8, Capitals 1

The Washington Capitals' number one goalie watched from the bench. Three key forwards were out of the lineup with various injuries. And two other players had just arrived from the minor leagues.

Thursday night's game against the Flyers in Philadelphia, a city the Caps haven't won in since 1998, had all the makings of a debacle. And that's precisely what transpired at Wachovia Center, where backup goalie Brent Johnson and the Capitals absorbed an 8-1 thumping in front of 19,253.

"We couldn't get the puck away from their bigger, stronger players," Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon said. "In the previous years, teams in our situation could do things to try to slow the game and hold people up. But now you have to stay within the rules."

The game's turning point arrived during a two-minute stretch that began in the waning seconds of the first period and continued in the opening moments of the second. It was during that span that the Flyers scored a short-handed goal, and got another when the puck ricocheted off the leg of a Capitals player to make the score 4-1.

"Those goals were tough," right wing Brian Willsie said. "You make your own breaks, and they were making breaks for themselves. You can't make any mistakes against a lineup like that, and we made a bunch."

The lopsided loss contrasted with their previous two games, a 3-2 victory over Buffalo and a 4-2 loss to Tampa Bay, in which the rebuilding Capitals had begun to show improvement in many areas. But against Peter Forsberg and the Flyers' all-star lineup, they took a big step backward.

"I think we did regress," defenseman Jamie Heward said. "We came out good and then went flat. Sometimes you just want to look at the sky and say, 'Give us a break.' "

In his second start, Johnson (35 saves) turned in an uneven performance. Olie Kolzig, the Capitals' top netminder, meantime, took a rare night off. He is expected to start Friday night against Atlanta at MCI Center. At the other end, the Flyers' Robert Esche made 29 saves.

The Capitals weren't helped by a recent rash of injuries that has made a mess of their roster, which was even shorter by the start of the second period. Defenseman Nolan Yonkman, who arrived from Hershey (Pa.) of the American Hockey League on Thursday morning, left the game after his first shift and did not return.

Yonkman joined Matt Bradley, Dainius Zubrus and Petr Sykora, who were already out with various ailments.

Because of the injuries, the Capitals dressed 11 forwards (instead of the customary 12) and moved Yonkman to right wing, where he was supposed to play with rookie Tomas Fleischmann, who was recalled Hershey and made his NHL debut. The short bench had another effect: It forced Alex Ovechkin to get 23 minutes 19 seconds of ice time and Jeff Halpern to play 24:04.

The Flyers, meantime, also were forced to deal with significant injuries. They played without captain Keith Primeau (sidelined indefinitely with a concussion) and defenseman Kim Johnsson (groin). And they have likely lost Eric Desjardins to a concussion after the veteran defenseman was elbowed in the head by the Capitals' Chris Clark late in the second period. No penalty was called.

Clark gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead about four minutes into the game, but the edge didn't last long. The Flyers' Jon Sim scored the first of his two goals on the power play three minutes later to tie the game at 1. And Jeff Carter, who also scored twice, put Philadelphia ahead 2-1 about five minutes later.

Then came the Flyers' one-two knockout punches.

Carter's second goal of the period came short-handed 23 seconds before intermission. Carter stripped the puck from fellow rookie Ovechkin at center ice, skated into the Capitals' zone, split the defense with some smooth stickhandling and whipped the puck past a sprawled Johnson to stake the Flyers to a 3-1 lead.

The Flyers' R.J. Umberger shoots against Shaone Morrisonn and goalie Brent Johnson. The Caps remained winless in Philadelphia since 1998.