The Washington Capitals, who are lagging far behind in the Norris Division standings, must cope with another kind of lag this week, courtesy of NHL schedule maker Brian O'Neill.

The Capitals arrived in Vancouver last night after a nine-hour journey and will play the Canucks tonight (WTOP-1500 at 11 p.m.). Following a 6 a.m. wakeup call tomorrow, the Capitals will fly to Los Angeles to meet the Kings that night.

Immediately after that contest, the team will board a red-eye flight to Baltimore, arriving at 9:45 a.m. Thursday. Then the Capitals will try to shake the double dose of jet lag to be competitive for games Saturday at the New York Islanders and Sunday at Buffalo.

"We can go on the road and try to reconstruct this whole thing," said Coach Tom McVie, who appeared somewhat dazed by the Capitals' 4-0 debacle at the hands of Minnesota here Sunday night. "There won't be any wholesale shakeup of personnel, though, because everybody is here already."

General Manager Max McNab left with the team.He expected to check out some junior talent as well as his ownclub, and certainly the chance to escape from Capital Centre carpers was not unwelcome. The Capitals' pre-season publicity plugs for playoff possibilities have come home to haunt a team that is less than playoff caliber.

Winger Blair Stewart will make his season debut in Vancouver. Stewart underwent surgery on his left knee Sept. 24 and has suffered through long and difficult rehabilitation.

Stewart suffered a torn ligament when he was smashed into the boards by 6-foot-6 Archie Henderson, following a brief fight in a training-camp scrimmage. It was a tough blow for Stewart, who was out 10 weeks last year with a broken leg. Stewart was the Capitals' fastest skater during timed trials at Hershey.

Right wing Mark Lofthouse, who saw limited action Sunday, was returned to Hershey yesterday. Goalie Gary Smith, who has not played since Dec. 7 and has not even dressed for a Washington game since Dec. 28, was left at home.

The Capitals have been losers on all seven previous visits to Vancouver, being outscored by 32-12. Overall, they are 2-12 against the Canucks, losing both meetings this season.

Vancouver holds second place in the Smythe Division, five points ahead of challenging Colorado. The Capitals, cellar dwellers in the Norris Division, are 12 points behind Detroit and Pittsburgh, which share third place.