It is customary for injured hockey players to watch their team's home games from the press box. The Washington Capitals have so many ailing they have been shifted to an adjacent section. More seats are available.

At this time of the season, we had no idea we'd be carrying 25 guys," general manager Max McNab said yesterday, between phone calls from physicians and farm teams.

Right wing Doug Patey, called up Wednesday to replace the team's most recently afflicted player, high scorer Bob Sirois, will stick around tonight, to help entertain the New York Rangers at Capital Centre at 7:30 on this occasion, however, Patey will be filling in for Bob Girard.

Girard pulled a groin muscle during his first shift in Wednesday's a 2-2 tie at Pittsburgh. He skated hurt for a while, had his left thigh taped, struggled some more and finally sat down. Groin pulls are the most annoying injuries in hockey. They are relatively minor, but they go away only with rest.

"You just can't skate with it," Girard said, "and if y ou can't skate you're not much good. I felt it on the first shift. I was on a two-on-one with Guy (Charron) and we had a good chance, but I felt it go. Even after I had it taped, it felt worse every shift. Finally in the third period I told (coach) Tommy (McVie) I'd better not go out.

"I've never missed a game in the NHL because of injury. Against Boston the night before I felt like I could skate forever. The line was going good, we weren't getting any goals against and I was just getting my skating down where it should be."

Ironically, McNab had been discussing Girard's contributions to the team before the start of the Pittsburgh contest. The 28-year-old left wing, acquired from Cleveland Dec. 8 in the Walt McKechnie trade, had amassed a plus-eight rating in only eight games with Washington, an understand of plateau for a Capital.

"When Girard was in the Western League, I was impressed by his skating and his guts," McNab had said. "He's a hell of a team man and a worker. He wasn't getting much work on Cleveland's fourth line, but his skating is coming around now. Tom Rowe is probably our fastest all-out skater, but Girard may be No. 2."

And then the muscle popped. Considering the Capital's luck in this 6-21-7 season, it's no surprise.

At least Sirois figures to be able to play tonight. He underwent two days of treatment, after a muscle spasm Monday night and playing in pain during Tuesday's 6-3 loss to Boston.

"He's 100 per cent better than the day of the (Pittsburgh) game," McNab said. "He's improved so much we expect him to play, but we'll decide for certain after he skates tomorrow morning."

Charron, the center who started the season with a bad knee, has been swapping linemates all season. He, Sirois and Bill Riley began to click in November, then Riley suffered a cut ankle tendon in Buffalo. The Girard-Charron-Sirois line was producing in remarkable fashion and now it is awry. Still, some fine work by Charron, left wing Craig Patrick and young Patey set up a goal in Pittsburgh, Larry Bolonchuk's first in the NHL.

When Girard joins the Capitals' spectator crew in sectin 112 tonight, he will sit with Riley, three men recuperating from knee surgery - Yvon Labre, Blair Stewart and Jack Lynch - and whichever of the team's three goalies is consigned to the stands.

Stweart, Riley and Labre are skating, but rehabilitation after their injuries promises to be lenghty. Lynch already is directing his energies toward next season.