DETROIT -- Washington Capitals coach Terry Murray exonerated starting goalie Mike Liut for giving up four goals in the first 13 minutes, 6 seconds of last night's game at Joe Louis Arena.
But the rest of the Capitals weren't relieved of blame in Washington's 5-4 loss to the Red Wings, helping to extend Detroit's unbeaten streak to 10 games (8-0-2).
"I don't blame him whatsoever," Murray said of Liut, who was removed after Detroit's fourth goal, in favor of Don Beaupre. "I took him out because I wanted to change things, change the tempo, change the game."
True, Liut didn't have much of a chance on any of the early Detroit goals. The skaters in front of him were slow and folded like a house of cards, leaving him prey to the Red Wings, who have scored 99 goals in 25 games -- second to the Capitals' 114 in 23.
One of the players who struggled early for Washington was defenseman Al Iafrate, who grew up in the Detroit area.
"It's always fun to come home and play," Iafrate said. "But I was on the ice for three of the first four goals. That's no fun."
Meanwhile, the Red Wings had fun taking target practice at Liut, which resulted in two first-period goals for Paul Ysebaert and one each for Sergei Fedorov and Steve Yzerman.
John Druce and Dino Ciccarelli also scored in the first period to send the game into the second with Detroit leading, 4-2. Michal Pivonka scored at 7:34 of the second period to reduce the lead to one goal, but Brad Marsh, with his second of the season, made it 5-3 at 10:38. Marsh's goal was scored on Detroit's first shot of the second period -- its first since 13:06 of the first period, when Ysebaert got his second goal.
Iafrate made it 5-4 with an unassisted goal at 2:25 of the third period, but Detroit increased its forechecking enough to make it impossible for Beaupre to leave the net for the extra attacker near the end of the game.
Meanwhile, any shot that the Capitals could send toward the Detroit net, Tim Cheveldae handled with ease. Cheveldae has played in every game this season. That experience appeared to come in handy, especially when he stopped Calle Johansson's breakaway shot in the third by gloving it.
"I shot it low instead of high, just as I did on the first two," said Johansson, who had shots gloved by Cheveldae in the first and second periods.
"On the first one, I just sprawled across the net," Cheveldae said of his first save on Johansson. "I just wanted it to hit my body. It was one of those saves that looks more spectacular than it really was. On the others, I just reacted."
The loss for Washington was its second in its past eight games, a 6-2-0 span. It also marked the second loss for Murray to his older brother, Bryan, this season. Detroit beat Washington Nov. 8 at the Capital Centre, 5-4.
But Terry Murray, like his brother, said Cheveldae was the difference last night.
"He's outstanding, outstanding, outstanding," Terry Murray said of his brother's goalkeeper.
"He's on some kind of roll for them. If I were Bryan, I would keep him in there as long as possible. If he tries to leave, I'd give him a boot and get him back in there."
Still, the Capitals coach said his team has a way to go if they want to be considered the best in the league, which their record would indicate.
"This was an important game for us," Terry Murray said. "They have to play better than they did tonight. We didn't come out well tonight and that hurt us. As a team, we needed more intensity."