Brian O'Neill, executive director of the National Hockey League, is a competent, pleasant person who would make an excellent successor to retiring president Clarence Campbell. But O'Neill also prepares the NHL schedule and what he has done to the Washington Capitals over the next couple of weeks makes one wonder whether he harbors sadistic tendencies.

Beginning tonight with a 7:30 o'clock Capital Centre clash against Boston, the Capitals must cope with a dreadful series of games against the NHL's upper echelon.

For the weekend, Washington has a home-and-home arrangement with the New York Islanders, a team that has swept eight games against the Capitals. Saturday night's meeting is booked at Nassau Coliseum the return engagement at Capital Centre at 1:30 Sunday.

On Jan. 18, the Montreal Canadians visit Capital Centre, trying to pad their 14-0 mark against the Capitals. The following night, Washington visits Buffalo. Then it is on to Montreal for a Jan. 22 contest against the Canadiens. After that struggle, the Capitals will board a charter flight and hurry home for a 1:30 engagement against St. Louis Jan. 23.

If the Capitals entertain any Norris Division playoff hopes after completing that stretch, they will be spawned either by incredible optimism or by a total collapse of the third place Los Angeles Kings.

Boston, the immediate problem, is engaged in a duel with Buffalo for the Adams Division lead. A victory tonight would lift the Bruins with one point of the first-place Sabres, so they are unlikely to be holding anything back.

The Capitals earned a 5-5 tie in the last meeting, Dec. 5 at Boston. That was Washington's third standoff in 13 games against the Bruins, who have won the other 10.

Tonight marks another of those confusing contests for the McNab family. Max McNab, general manager of the Capitals, is the father of Peter McNab, the center whose 27 goals are high among the Bruins.

The Capitals' leading scorer is center Guy Charron, who entered last night's game in Detroit with 23 goals and 21 assists. Charron had scored only two goals in his last 10 games, as opposing teams have concentrated on stopping the line of Charron, Ace Bailey and Hartland Monahan.

Monahan's goal in the 7-2 loss at Montreal on Saturday was his first in nine games. Bailey has not turned on a red light since Dec. 23.

The Montreal disaster eliminated the Capital's last two plus players as Bill Collins and Bill Riley dipped into the minus column. Victimized the most was defense man Rick Green, who was on the ice for five Montreal goals and slump edto minus 14. Four players shared the lowest depth in the minus column at 15 - Jack Lynch. Ron lalonde, Gerry Meehan and Doug Patey.

The Capitals' power play continued to suffer, despite extensive work that included a 10-minute discussion among coach Tom McVie and the five regulars at a recent practice. In their only extra-man situation at Montreal, the Capitals were beaten for their 12th shorthanded goal, by defense man Pierre Bouchard. In its last nine games, Washington had managed only one power-play goal.