Peter Bondra scored the go-ahead goal with 12:17 left as host Washington ended a six-game winless streak and handed Vancouver its eighth straight loss.
Bondra took a pass from Adam Oates and scored his team-high seventh goal from the right circle. Phil Housley, who set up the Capitals' first goal, got his second assist and his 999th career point.
Goaltender Kirk McLean had 39 saves, but the Canucks remained winless against the Capitals in eight games since October 1992.
Earlier in the day, the Canucks fired Pat Quinn, president and general manager for 10 years. The Canucks have not had a winning season since 1994. This season, despite free-agent acquisition Mark Messier, they are 3-11-2.
Hurricanes' Burke may play
RALEIGH, N.C. _ Carolina goalie Sean Burke, charged Sunday with assaulting his wife, will not be suspended, and the Hurricanes refused to rule out his return to the lineup tonight against Detroit.
Maj. Ralph Stephenson of the Wake County, N.C., Sheriff's Department said Leslie Burke had bruises on her neck and left side of her face when deputies arrived after a 911 call Sunday night. During the call, she told a police dispatcher her husband beat her previously.
"We would like to deal with this situation as a family," Burke said in a statement. "My wife and I are taking the necessary steps to deal with this matter and we would hope that everyone will understand and respect our need for privacy."
PANTHERS COACH SUSPENDED: The league suspended Doug MacLean for two games and fined him $5,000 for a confrontation with rookie referee Dennis LaRue after Saturday's overtime loss to Buffalo. MacLean jumped over the boards and rushed toward LaRue to protest the winning goal by Buffalo's Dixon Ward, who appeared to poke the puck loose from underneath Florida goalie Mark Fitzpatrick.
RULE REVIEWED: The league advised officials to trust their view of a goal more often than relying on video replays to determine if a player is in the crease. The rule will be discussed again at the board of governors meetings Dec. 2-3 in West Palm Beach.
OILERS: The proposed sale of the team is off, blocked by owner Peter Pocklington's 3-year-old promise to keep the team in Edmonton until 2004.
Pocklington said his deal with Les Alexander, owner of the NBA Rockets, would have allowed Alexander to move the team after the 1999-2000 season if the team was unprofitable. If the Oilers proved profitable in Edmonton, he would sell the team to local interests and be rewarded by the league with an expansion franchise.
But the city refused to allow a change in its 1994 agreement.
Alexander, who sought an expansion team for Houston this year, said he still hopes for an agreement that would lead to a team for Houston.
SHARKS: RW Tony Granato had reconstructive surgery on his jaw, broken Saturday against St. Louis. His jaw was wired shut. There is no timetable for his return.
CANADIAN STUDY: The Canadian government appointed a committee to study how to keep the remaining six teams in Canada. Two have moved to the United States in the past two years.