One of coach Tommy McVie's favorite drills in practice is to send his Washington Capitals through 20 minutes of non-stop shooting. Sometimes he gets exasperated watching his team misfire.

"I'll blow my whistle," he said, "and ask them if they are really serious. Do you know what you are trying to do?"

The same feeling of frustration visited McVie Wednesday night in Vancouver. The Caps had numerous opportunities to score on Canuck goalie Cesare Maniago, but only Craig Patrick and Gerry Meehan could turn on the red light in the 5-2 defeat.

"Maniago played well," McVie said prior to tonight's game against the Los Angeles Kings, "but we had our chances. If I knew how to make them score when they have the shots, I'd be a millionaire."

McVie also was concerned about the breakddown during the last 10 minutes of the first period, when Vancouver wiped out the Caps' 1-0 lead and charged to a 3-1 margin.

"The way we've practiced the last two days, I thought we'd come and blow them off the ice," he said."We were going that hard. Instead, we played an inadequate game. We didn't do enough things properly to win."

Take away that lapse and the Caps might have picked up their 20th victory. The rest of the way they played Vancouver even and still might have had a shot at winning if Maniago, who says he feels "21 again", hadn't played so well.

Maniago, who picked up an assist along the way, was at his best in the second period when Washington hammered away during two power plays.

During the first, Maniago stopped a savage slap shot by Guy Charron, then a low darter from Gord Smith and finally a rebound by Jack Lynch.

Minutes later, Vancouver again was shorthanded and again Maniago was all arms and legs, kicking away shots. Charron's whistler from the point almost beat him, but Maniago dove to cover the rebound. Smith tried again, this time from the right side after the Caps had labored vigorously to set up one good shot. Maniago kicked out the puck and the power play expired.

Maniago was still going strong in the third period. With Dennis Kearns in the penalty box for hooking, Patrick was robbed when Maniago somehow smothered the puck while sprawled on the ice. Moments later, Smith's ice skimmer was stopped by Maniago's glove while the rest of his body seemed to be falling in the other direction.

Kearns had a goal and two assists for Vancouver but the fans were more excited by the play of Dereck Sanderson, the National Hockey Leauge's traveling man. Sanderson scored the Canucks' third goal and passed up a shot on a breakway in the third period to feed Don Lever, who easily beat goalie Ron Low.

Low deserved a better fate. He gave up three power-play goals and suffered at times from a total breakdown in his defense.

Vancauver also got a nice assist from teh public address announcer.

Washington was coasting along with a 1-0 lead, thanks to Patrick's goal 90 seconds into the contest when the announcer revealed that both Minnesota and Colorado had lost. Those teams happened to be just ahead of Vancouver in the Smythe Division.

No sooner had he spoken than the fans came alive and Vancouver tied the score on a play-book goal from Kearns, off a fine lead pass from Garry Monahan.

While Maniago watched at his end, Vancouver continued to apply the pressure. The hustle paid off when Bobby Lalonde picked off a pass from Washington's Charron inside the Caps' blue line and easily beat Low with a slapshot.

Seventy-six seconds later, Yvon Labre was penalized for interference while Washington battled to clear the puck. It took Vancouver just 13 seconds to tally to a power-play goal by Sanderson. That put the Canucks up, 3-1, with 16-52 gone in the period.