Some of the Capitals are finding the team's current slide difficult to handle. Right wing Bill Riley, for example, said, "It's kind of tough getting to sleep. I roll around, thinking back over everything that happened, and wonder what I can do to change things. It's got to change soon. The puck can't keep bouncing the wrong way forever."

Veteran defenseman Bryan Watson is able to maintain his perspective.

"Yeah, it's not much fun," Watson said, "but I just think about a kid a hospital and I know things aren't so tough for me. Have you ever seen a kid in a hospital? Now, that's really had."

Watson and his wife, Lindy, are active in the Special Olympics program and the defenseman has visited many hospitalized youngsters, bearing hockey stocks and other gifts.

Watson celebrated his 35th birthday Monday and, as he left the team's headquarters here, he rejected a belated greeting from coach Tom McVie: "Just be sure you're birthday isn't over when you get back."

The Capitals have an 11 p.m. curfew the nights before games and McVie makes telephone checks to insure compliance.

It's a big week for birthdays. Left wing Dave Forbes will celebrate his 29th Wednesday when the Capitals play in Toronto. Defenseman Gord Smith will mark his 28th Thursday.

McVie still hasn't fully digested the events of Sunday. Counting the Capitals' 6-0 loss to the New York Islanders and his sons' hockey and soccer contests, the McVie clan participated in five games and not one of their teams scored a goal.

The bus driver transporting the Capitals to their hotel Monday night needed a receipt and McVie said, "I'll sign anything."

A wise reporter slipped the coach a note bearing only the words, "I quit." McVie laughed, then said, "Well, almost anything. That would be too easy a way out."

McVie emphasized during another unpleasant stretch a year ago that he would never quit his job, but would continue to work as hard as possible for as long as he was wanted.

The Capitals are not staying at their usual hotel here, and announcer Ron Weber learned of the late shift only after th bus had left Lambert Airport. St. Louis' hockey groupies had better communications, however, and the hotel receptionist said, "I can't believe the calls that have been coming in.Girls are calling who don't even know the players' names. They just want to talk to a hockey player."

They were, of course, not connected.

The same receptionist said, "I didn't know this was a pro team. They're all so young. I thought they'd come in to play St. Louis U. I though pro hockey players had teeth missing and scars all over their faces."

Left wing Nelson Burton has been hospitalized for treatment of his infected left elbow. Left wing Ace Bailey also stayed behind in Washington to rest his damaged right knee.

Defenseman Robert Picard sought in vain for a view of the famed Gateway Arch during the ride from the airport. Picard visited St. Louis during the five summers while his uncle, Noel, was a member of the Blues.

Noel, who operates a restaurant in nearby Cuba, Mo., said, "Robert is a good kid, a real good kid, and I hope all the big money doesn't go to his head and change him. "I'll have a talk with him after the game and be sure he's still a good kid."