LANDOVER -- Maybe it was the red road uniforms the Washington Capitals were wearing and will wear the rest of the season at home as part of the NHL's 75th anniversary celebrations.
Or maybe it was the eight-day All-Star break?
Whatever the reason, the Capitals didn't look like the same team that was the talk of the league in the first half of the season.
The listless Capitals were pushed all over the Capital Centre ice by the rejuvenated New Jersey Devils, who rolled to a 5-2 victory last night in a Patrick Division game.
New Jersey was led by Soviet rookies Valeri Zelepukin and Alexander Semak who combined for three goals and one assist in the first two periods. Zelepukin had two goals and one assist, and Semak had one goal.
Zelepukin got hit in the ankle by a Calle Johansson shot late in the third period and had to leave the game.
Claude Lemieux and Stephane Richer also scored goals for the Devils, who bolted to a 5-0 lead at the end of the second period.
The victory gave the Devils a 7-2-2 record in their last 11 games and moved them within 7 points of the Capitals (28-16-4) in the Patrick Division standings.
New Jersey (23-15-7) is an all-time team high eight games over .500.
The Capitals gained a measure of respect in the third period, rallying for two goals on scores by Dale Hunter and Dimitri Khristich in the first 10 minutes of the period to pull within three goals.
Mike Liut started in the net and was touched for the five goals in two periods. He was replaced by Don Beaupre at the start of the third period.
New Jersey pounded three goals into the net in the second period to surge ahead, 5-0.
The game continued to be a nightmare for the Capitals early in the second period when Zelepukin scored his second goal of the night at 53 seconds of the period for a 3-0 Devils lead.
Zelepukin sent a shot at Liut, who went down and made the glove save, but Liut inadvertently knocked the puck across the goal line when he hit his glove with his stick.
After the Capitals failed to score on their second power play of the night in an attempt to get on the scoreboard for the first time, New Jersey ran its lead to 4-0 on a Lemieux goal at 13:47.
Lemieux was set up perfectly for the goal when Zelepukin sent a pass from behind the net to Lemieux who was open in front of the goal.
Richer turned a Washington turnover at the blue line into a 5-0 New Jersey lead, as he skated in on Liut on a break for an easy goal.
Washington played one of its poorer periods of the season last night in the first period and fell behind, 2-0.
New Jersey dominated every phase of the game against a Capitals team that had trouble clearing the puck and getting off high-percentage shots.
Washington also lacked intensity and didn't come close to scoring on the only power play of the first period. The Capitals entered the game with the top power play in the NHL, 25.4 percent.