Peter O'Malley, the Washington Capitals' president, bristled several weeks ago when the word "allegedly" was used to describe the announced attendance of 7,473 at a Capital Centre game against the Los Angeles Kings.

"The one thing we've always had going for us is our credibility," O' Malley said at that time.

In the interim, the Capitals' credibility has virtually disappeared. Not because of "papering the house" every now and then; but because of the clubs policy of secrecy, confusion and not being always straight with the public media.

The Capitals' callous handling of crowd favorite Bernie Wolfe leaves too many unanswered questions. But perhaps it would have been better if nobody had tried to provide answers.

On Thursday afternoon general manager Max McNab said there might be a player move between Washington and Hershey, to check later. But a few minutes befor 11 p.m. he said the Capitals would "go the same lineup Friday. Hershey plays Saturday and there may be a couple of changes for Sunday's game."

At noon Friday, Gary Smith, in a radio interview, said he had been told that he would play Friday night. At the same time, Wolfe was ushered into McNab's office and informed that he was being assigned to Hershey.

At 3 p.m. Friday, McVie again was asked who would play goal and this time he replied, "Jim Bedard." It was then that Wolfe's demotion became known. The club had made no announcement.

McNab, asked to explain the surprising move, insisted that it had been discussed for two weeks and was not a desperation act. He also claimed he had said "probably go with same lineup" when queried the night before and had not intended to mislead anyone.

But the recollection is that McNab flatly proclaimed no changes would occur during the Thursday night conversation, but it's relly immaterial. A few minutes later, at 11:05 p.m., according to Bedard, who had reason to remember the time, he was informed by Hershey general manager Frank Mathers that he would start for Washington Friday night.

There are many possible explanations for McNab's behavior. The deception involved, howere, serves to increase the speculation over how and why the Capitals would demote one of their most popular players.

By maintaining secrecy over Wolfe's demotion, the club could reduce the chance of organized reaction from disgruntled fans, since Wolfe has become extremely here.

O' Malley and McNab held a lengthy meeting Thursday evening and it seems likely one topic of discussion was the possibility of such a back-lash.

It is not inconceivable that McVie, never a fan of Wolfe's acrobatic style, issued and ultimatum to McNab concerning the goalie, as he did in the case of the departed Walt McKechnie McVie and McNab met Thursday afternoon, probably not just to chat. Thursday night McNab was not even aware that left wing Ace Bailey hadd aggravated his knee injury during the morning practise.

Both McNab and McVie have denied any disagreements between them. McNab, howere, was unhappy when McVie barred McKehnie's absence was noted and the facts uncovered, destroying any possible trade value, even though the Capitals' public relations director was not informed of the action.

When a team goes 18 games without a victory, it leaves everyone under a strain. McNab, who has sweated almost without rest to turn the club around, is under great pressure to acquire some talent for a team desperately in need of a transfusion. He has little to offer except draft choices and that route promises long-range disaster.

Fans are still soming to Capital Centre and there was great enthusiasm during the team's two-goal rally before it fell to Cleveland Friday, 3-2. But it was noticeable that, with the score tied and three minutes remaining large numbers of spectators were headed out the exists. They obviously were lured by free sticks, not patisanship.

The players' spirits have held up well during their ordeal, but the inexplicable treatment of Wolfe, following the dispatch of Hartland Monahan and the exiling of McKechnie, promises unsettling thoughts for those who are left.

After Fridays' game, some players sat in front of their cubicles, staring at the floor. One, howere, still in uniform, marched off to demand that he be awarded an assist. Another complained that he had taken more shots on goal than the scoresheet indicated. In each case, the player would have been better advise to ponder botched scoring opportunities.

It revived memories of that awful first season, when players complained about the scorers and ignored the score. One remembered goalie Michel Belhumeur, the 0-29-4 goaltender. Whenever he started, the player wondered how they would manage to blow the upcoming game. Somehow, they always did.

It is coming close to that stage again no matter who is in goal and no matter how well the team plays.

Tonight Pittsburg, one of the two teams Washington has been able to beat, comes to Capital Centre at 7:30. it is an excellent opportunity for the Capitals to earn a victory. It will be much longer before they are able to restore their credibility.