The Washington Capitals return to action Saturday night in St. Louis, scene of their last victory 21 days ago. Washington has won all three previous contests with the Blues, all in the month of January, and the Capitals are not expecting to be welcomed like visiting cousins.

"We've got some people pretty mad at us over there," said Washington coach Tom McVie. "They don't feel good about losing three in a row."

The Capitals have gone nine games without a victory, but since five of those contests were ties, they aren't distraught about it, just dissatisfied. The latest deadlock came here Thursday night, when Ron Lalonde connected with 4:45 left to produce a 4-4 stalemate with the Minnesota North Stars.

"But the guys were pumped up high enough to win," McVie said. "We've got 19 guys who aren't satisfied with this tie. A year ago, they'd have been hollering and happy with it."

The Capitals were a lot happier about it after rising this morning to learn that the Los Angeles Kings had been beaten by Atlanta, 4-3. The Kings now lead the Capitals by seven points in the battle for a playoff berth.

The teams clash twice more, at Capital Centre March 1 and at Los Angeles March 10. Washington has 20 games remaining, 13 at home, while the Kings have 22 to play, 11 at home. The difficulty of Washington's task is shown, however, by the fact that it must play half its games against plus-.500 teams, while the Kings have 13 to go against clubs with losing records.

Washington general manager Max-McNab has been missing from his office for two days and Capital personnel declined to reveal his whereabouts. That is a most unusual circumstance for so accessible a person, and it leads to speculation that he is shopping for reinforcements in the vicinity of Cleveland.

The New York Rangers have reportedly offered $1 million for Cleveland goalie Gilles Meloche, defense man Bob Stewart and center Dennis Maruk. Any Washington bid would certainly be more modest.

Saturday's game is the ninth for the capitals in the month of February, all in different cities . . . Although some Capitals have suffered recently in the plus-minus statistics, Bill Riley is still positively situated at plus four . . . The Minnesota Fighting Saints disappeared a month ago, but Thursday's Minneapolis Star listed Quebec at Minnesota in the World Hockey Association schedule, with the home team in capital letters yet . . . The Capitals will be home Sunday night to face the New York Islanders.