During the three-day All-Star break, coach Tom McVie of the Washington Capitals had time to catch up on his reading.McVie's choise of literature, not surprisingly, was his dairy, where he records his detailed impressions of each Capitals game.

The particular passage that occupied most of McVie's attention concerned a Jan. 4 game here against the Detroit Red Wings, in which the Capitals survived their sorriest display of the season to gain a 2-2 tie.

What makes those memories of prime importance today is the fact that the Red Wings will be back at Capital Centre tonight for a 7:30 contest, and McVie is most anxious for his fourth-place Capitals to increase their Norris Dvision margin over the Red Wings to five points.

"That was the worst hockey game we've played," McVie said. "Except for the goaltending, we wouldn't have had a chance. I've been looking at the book, remembering the game and watching it on the tapes. I've gone over it with the players.

"But it's not like reading the Racing Form and handicapping. You don't know what you'll get. If we play the way we should, we'll beat them. If not, if could be a long night. It's my job to prepare them, of course. But if I knew the answers, why some night everybody's flying and the next night everybody's flat, I'd quit here and he a trouble-shooter for 17 other teams with the same problem."

McVie characterized Tuesday's practice as "a horrible workout, a dog day." He called yesterday's drill "the best of the year, really snappy. They were passing good, shooting good. I wish we'd been playing today."

THen McVie put the obvious in words: "I hope it doesn't go bad day, good day, bad day."

Detroit is winless in 1977, having struggled through 10 games without a success. Of their last seven games against Washington, the Wings have won only one. But Sunday they went into Montreal and led much of the way before settling for a 2-2 tie.

"People who saw that game said they looked awfully good," McVie said. "They played aggressive. There's no way we'll beat that team without a lot of hard work, the kind we showed when we went into Detroit and shut them out (2-0 on Jan. 10)."

Detroit acquired a new coach on Jan. 17, a guy named Larry Wilson, who is no stranger to many of the Capitals Wilson, like McVie, was once a highly successful coach will Dayton of the International League. During the last two seasons, Wilson coached the Capitals' farmhands at Richmond in the American League.

Wilson has been working the Wings in two-hour sessions, with considerable attention to fundamentals.

"There's an awful lot of work to be done here," Wilson said. "You have to put three periods together to win and to do that you have to be in shape."

Yes, that sounds exactly like McVie. If the players practice what their coaches preach, this could be the best hockey game at Capital Centre since Abe Pollin opened the doors. Regardless, they'd need double runners to play one as bad as the last time around.

Detroit is still missing Dan Maloney with a shoulder injury. Buster Harvey will be absent, too, after suffering a bruised left knee in Montrea . . . The Capitals are fourth in the NHL in the fewest power-play goals allowed column, having yielded only 28 . . . Ron Weber, the voice of the Capitals, is the proud owner of a team jersey with th appropriation number 1500 . . . The Bantam (ages 13-14) terms of Wheaton and Bowie will play a preliminary at 5 p.m.