If the meek are truly blessed, then the Pittsburg Penguins figure to have a divine rooting interest guiding them when they play the Washington Capitals at Capital Centre tonight at 7:30.

Pittsburgh has served fewer penalties than any other team in the league, only 488 minutes. Washington, by contrast, ranks fourth in the bad-boy department with 888.

Although the Capitals' recent display of sin -- 163 minutes in seven games -- has contributed to 14 opposing power-play goals, coach Tom McVie has no intention of shackling his Truman Drive Terrors.

"We're finally making headway in not being taken advantage of," McVie said. "We're trying to be aggressive and you've got to take the bad with the good. I never give a guy hell for taking a penalty. I don't want to take his aggresiveness away."

McVie admitted that he wished some of his players would be more selective in their "sinning."

"Hooking or holding if you don't save a goal is just awful, McVie said, "I had our people make a study of all our penalties and I read each player everything he'd been sent off for. Those with a lot of hooking and holding got the message -- too many of those were not helping the hockey team."

Although yesterday was a holiday for the Capitals' office personnel, McVie was at Capital Centre, conducting an optional practice. He was a bit startled to call the upstairs office and hear general manager Max McNab answer the telephone.

"I asked him. 'Are you cutting costs or something?'" McVie said.

It was hardly unusual to find McNab ignoring a holiday. Except for Christmas Day, he had not taken a day off since May, until Wednesday, when he was ordered to take his wife to Florida for four days.

"I went kicking and screaming," McNab said, "but I think they were probably right. I was starting to get fuzzy. You have to get away sometime, whether you'll admit it or not."

It took four repeats of the same direct question to get McNab to admit, somewhat sheepishly, to his whereabouts last week. He knows the Capitals have a long way to go to reach his goal of competitive balance with everybody and he is reluctant even to sleep, if it means missing a possible advantageous stroke. He was able to doze off peacefully, however, after Sunday night's 2-2 tie with the New York Islanders, watched by a sellout crowd of 18,130.

"It all came together," McNab said. "The production department, with their group sales and general interest, filled the building. And then the team came up big. That was a heck of a game against an awfully good team that is fighting for first place.

"We are learning more about our personnel during this stretch drive than we learned all last year. Last year there was nothing more to be gained than respectability. Now we are finding out who can perform in the league under this type of contending pressure. We will have a good basis for determining what deals to make and what persons to count on for next year."

The Capitals have three victories and a tie in their last four games with Pittsburgh, dating back to last spring. The Penguins, however, have been playing sound hockey since captain Jean Pronovost chewed out his teammates for their self-centered play. Pittsburgh is unbeaten in its last four games, including a tie against Montreal and a triumph at Los Angeles that just about insured a second-place Norris Division finish for the Penguins.