The Washington Capitals are back in town, with a 17-game winless streak, an aversion to local radio sports show and surprisingly good team morale.

For a club called "poor and bedrag-four. This is a new month and hopefully showed remarkable spirit in a workout yesterday at Capital Centre. Guy Charron and Bobby Sirois wrestled on the ice: when Clarron skated through several players and whipped the puck in the net. Sirois lay on the ice, laughing and kicking his skates.

"If we don't resort to self-pity, we're good enough to win a lot of hockey games," said team captain Gerry Meehan. "We had a good game in Los Angeles, really three good ones in our last four. This is a new month and hopefully a new start. The schedule is more favorable, we're due to get some bounces our way and Tommy wont let us get down."

Tommy, of course, is coach Tom McVie, called "fearful of being fired" by one sportscaster and "embattled, at least in his own mind," by another radio analyst.

"I don't know what that means." McVie said. "I do know that (general manager) Max (McNab), (team president) Peter O'Mailey and myself are too busy to get on that subject. There is no problem whatsoever about that. I know I'm a good hockey coach and I know I'm doing everything I can. This hockey club means more to me than just a job. It's like one of my children."

One of the things keeping McVie busy is the arrival of the Cleveland Barons for a contest tonight at 7:30. Of six meetings since the exiled Golden Seals set up house in Cleveland, the Barons have won all six, by a combined score of 29-11.

"Our club seems to get frustrated by Cleveland," McVie said. "I don't know why, whether it's psychological or whatever. We've prepared for games with them and before things have settled down we're four goals behind. They're a good skating team. And (goalie Gilles) Meloche is an outstanding reason for our trouble."

Another reason is an icredible succession of injuries, which became aggravated Wednesday night. Left winger Tony White, who the Capitals had planned to recall from Hersey for tonight's game, suffered a torn knee ligament and will be in a cast for three weeks. White had scored 10 goals for the Bears.

The Capitals are likely to start Bernie Wolfe in goal, after Gary Smith toiled in five straight games and seven of the last eight. Wolfe has played only once, in that breakaway-infested 7-6 loss to Buffalo, since Nov. 13.

"I'll be ready when he calls me," said Wolfe, who is wearing a birdcage instead of the traditional goalie mask.

"I can see as well," Wolfe said, "and there's more protection. My whole head is protected now."

Left wing Ace Bailey is still not ready to play, as was demonstrated during yesterday's practice. Bailey caught his skate in the ice and twisted his damaged right knee. He left immediately, moaning in agony all the way to the dressing room.

Defenseman Bryan Watson's activity was limited by a touch of the flu, but he will play tonight. It beats listening to the radio, where a cynic noted, "Yesterday was a good day for the Capitals. They didn't play."