There are still skeptics who don't believe that coach Tom (Simon) McVie of the Washington Capitals is the most relentless slave driver since his nicknamesake, Legree. Their ranks were further reduced yesterday.

The Capitals were a half-hour late for the annual Welcome Home luncheon at the Sheraton Lanham, because McVie insisted on utilizing the last second of the morning's two-hour practice at Fort Dupont.

Team president Peter O'Malley and general manager Max McNab paced the hotel lobby, while more than 400 diners joined the Washington Bullets in savoring the first two courses.

The last arrival was defenseman Robert Picard, the club's top draftee who has not played in the two regular-season games because of a strained muscle in his back. After lunch, Picard showed he has not yet completely absorbed the McVie work ethic.

"I want you to ride th bike this afternoon," McVie told him.

"Honestly?" Picard replied.

"I never said it would be easy, Robert," McVie said.

"You really mean it?" Picard persisted.

"No, you don't have to," McVie said. "Just go see Mr. McNab and he'll tell you how much it will cost you not to ride it."

Picard rode, but whether he will play in Wednesday's home game against Montreal is quesitonable. He skated yesterday, but he said his back was "not good. I'll have to see tomorrow."

Picard laughingly accepted a barb from emcee Jim Simpson, who said, "Did Rob Picard make it today? Good, because I didn't think he'd make it here from Quebec."

Abe Pollin, owner of the two teams, dubbed himself "the eternal optimist" and told the diners, "I really have a good feeling this year about both teams.

"Our hockey club is on the move and we're not going to stop until we get to the Stanley Cup. And we'll be there. It won't be too many years.

"As for the Bullets, I've never felt so good about the team before. I think we have all teh ingredients for a special super team."

The coaches made no rash promises, such as the one with which Milt Schmidt, then leader of the Caps, startled a similar gathering two years ago: "We'll be in the Stanley Cup playoffs." Asked about that one afterward, the usually forthright Schmidt said, "I had to say it. I was told to."

McVie restricted his optimism yesterday to a statement. "We are the hardest working club in the National Hockey League and we're in the best condition of any hockey club in North America . . . All we've promised here is that we're not going to let anyone outwork us."

Coach Dick Motta of the Bullets said, "I like what I see. I like this ball club. It's a fun team to be around, a team where you can sit around and have a nice conversation. I hope you will be satisfied with the way they play."