Tom McVie sat in the coffeeshop of a New York hotel early last Thursday morning, after his Washington Capitals had played the Rangers to a wild 5-5 tie the previous evening at Madison Square Garden, and noted that the slumber habits of a National Hockey League coach are just the opposite of a bear's. He hibernates in the summer to make up for a long, sleepless winter.

"With the games, the workouts, the travel, the meeting with (general manager) Max (McNab) every day to review situations, I hardly sleep at all," said McVie, who lives the work ethic he preaches. "Maybe a few hour a night.I sleep in the summer-time, not during the hockey season."

The few hours he does get must be less fitful now that the Caps have started to win some games - something they failed to do between Oct. 26 and Dec. 6.

The team is 4-2-1 since that dreary 42-day, 20-game winless streak that finally ended at Cleveland Dec. 7. Friday night's 3-2 Capital Centre victory over the Detroit Red Wings left Washington's season mark at 6-20-6.

Nevertheless, the Caps have been down so long that their current three-game unbeaten streak looks like up to them. They even scored a power play goal Friday night - defenseman Rick Green's eventual game-winning blast from 10 feet inside the blue line at 9:39 of the final period - and that was something they have achieved only 10 times in 105 opportunities this season. That gives them the most aweless percentage in the NHL.

The Caps are 2-0-1 since McVie took them to Squaw Valley, Calif., a week an a half ago for a three-day "midseason training camp" between games in Vancouver and Los Angeles.

"I think that was very important. Rather than taking three days off, we went right back to training-camp situations, and physically and fundamentally we came away a better hockey club," said McVie.

"It was important in bringing the club together, too. Instead of sitting around and resting we went right back to works," added the coach who drives his troops so hard that some call him Simon McVie. "The workouts we had at Fort Dupont after coming back from the coast, before going to New York, were two of the best we've had because when you win, hockey becomes fun again."

A key to the Caps' rejuvenation has been the awakening of their "scoring line" since Bob Girard, obtained Dec. 8 in the trade of Walt Mckechnie to Cleveland, became the left wing skating with center Guy Charron and right wing Bob Sirois.

Girard, a former defenseman known for his defensive and checking capabilities since being converted to forward, has complemented the Caps' two scoring leaders.

Charron scored two goals apiece in the 2-1 victory over the Kings and the tie with the Rangers. He assisted on both of Sirois' goals against the Red Wings, which came 17 seconds apart in the first 2:01 of the second period - much as Charron's two New York goals came in the first 1:15 of the second period.

Charron, who now has 50 goals and 58 assists in 112 games as a Capital, is back on the pace that netted him 36 goals last year. He has 14 goals and 12 assists in 31 games, half of the goals in the Caps' last seven games.

Sirois, another fleet and fluid skater who has worked at weight and flexibility programs this season to increase his upper body strength, has four goals and five assists in the last seven games. Playing without injuries for the longest stretch of his checkered career, he has taken over the team scoring leadership from Charron, 27-26.

McVie was pleased with effort of goaltender Bernie Wolfe, who turned away 36 shots Friday night in his first appearance for the Caps since rejoining the team from Hershey.

Wolfe or Gary Smith will be designated in the next few days as the Caps' second goalie, along with 21-year-old rookie Jim Bedard (2-4-1-3.14 goals-against average since being brought up from Hershey of the American Hockey League on Dec. 2). The odd man out will probably either be traded or sent to Hershey.

Wolfe was exhausted and happy after the victory, but not gloating about vindication. He said, predictably, that he was just happy to be able to help the team win.

He disagrees, thought with those who contend that his flop-a-lot, down-to-the-pads, animated style of goal-tending is ill-suited to team like the Caps, which is weak on defense and often has trouble clearing the puck.

"It's very difficult to change, and nobody has asked me to. I figure a style should be just as good with one team as with another."