LANDOVER -- March was supposed to belong to the Washington Capitals.
They have 11 home games, and coach Terry Murray told his players it would be a good time to surge toward a first-place finish in the Patrick Division.
But the second-place Capitals are 0-for-2 this month at the Capital Centre after falling meekly to the struggling Minnesota North Stars, 3-1, last night. The Capitals remain eight points behind the division-leading New York Rangers.
Minnesota entered the game 1-7 in its previous eight, but had little trouble against a Washington team that looked uninterested for the second time in three days at home.
The Capitals took 18 shots and lost to the Boston Bruins, 4-1, Sunday. Last night, Washington had 22 shots.
"We've talked about the month of March with the 11 home games several times," said Murray. "It's a critical time. I've told the players it's an opportunity for them to win some games. But it's an opportunity disguised as hard work, and the players are forgetting that."
Murray said his players have forgotten to take a hit and work in the corners.
"Some of our leaders have to play at a higher standard of play," said Murray. "I'd say there's six to eight guys who fit in that category."
Murray also said right wing Dino Ciccarelli's scoring slump has him deeply concerned.
Ciccarelli has one goal in the past 14 games and hasn't even been involved much in the offense lately. During one recent seven-game stretch, Ciccarelli took only 17 shots.
"Certainly, Dino is one of the top players I'm concerned about," said Murray. "He has to work hard and play with reckless abandon. Dino needs his helmet flying in traffic. He came back a little tonight and worked hard, but we need more from him."
Ciccarelli took four shots last night, but neither he nor any other veteran Caps could put the puck in the net.
Right wing Paul MacDermid, playing his first game for Washington, scored from in front of the crease 6:36 into the third period to break up Darcy Wakaluk's shutout.
MacDermid was acquired from the Winnipeg Jets Monday in a deal that sent defenseman Mike Lalor to the Jets.
The North Stars had grabbed a 3-0 lead at 14:44 of the first period on goals by Gaetan Duchesne, Mike Modano and Steve Maltais.
After Maltais made it 3-0 on a goal that came off a turnover by Al Iafrate, Murray pulled starting goaltender Don Beaupre.
"You have to make a decision at that point," said Murray. "You don't want to be down, 4-0. There was nothing Donnie could do about the second goal, which came on a two-on-one break, but I don't know what happened on the first one. I guess he lost it in the crowd or the lights. We're only going to go as far as Donnie takes us."
The opening score, by Duchesne, came off a shot that hit Kevin Hatcher's stick and sailed past Beaupre's left shoulder.
"I thought the puck was going over the net," said Beaupre of the first goal. "But, the next thing I know, it hits my helmet and goes in the net."
NOTES: D Brad Schlegel, captain of the 1992 Canadian Olympic team, was called up from the Skipjacks yesterday and played for the Capitals last night. Schlegel, who signed last Friday, played two games with the Skipjacks and had an assist. . . . Capitals leading scorer Randy Burridge will undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn interior cruciate ligament in his left knee today and will be out at least three to four weeks. Burridge injured the knee Sunday in the loss to the Bruins.