The Washington Capitals received a day off yesterday, after playing three times in four nights with 7,000 miles of plane travel thrown in. For General Manager Max McNab and Coach Danny belisle, however, it was work as usual.

The two spent the day in McNab's capital Centre office, discussing personnel and trying to figure out why the team played so badly Saturday fight in losing its home opener to the Atlanta Flames, 6-3.

Washington fell behind, 3-0, in the first period and McNab said, "If's that first-period epidemic again. Last year we got only 23 goals in the first period in 40 home games. I just can't put my finger on it. It bothers me, because we even score more on the road in the first period."

Atlanta outshot the Capitals, 15-4, in the first 20 minutes and the crowd of 9,243 quickly turned on the heroes of Los Angeles and Atlanta. There were derisive cheers for the Capitals' first shot at the 9 1/2 minute mark, by which time the Flames had a 2-0 lead and had fired nine shots at Jim Bedard.

There were boos, too, lots of them, and chants of "we want McVie" for the man Belisle succeeded. It was not a night to remember.

"We need more scoring power," Belisle said. "We're still in the growing stages. When you lose a game, you don't pout or put your head down. You learn from your mistakes."

In the area of personnel, where McNab and Belisle were seeking extra scoring power, the Capitals presently are carrying a 25-man roster. Belisle hasn't even see six of them play - centers Ron Lalonde and Glen Currie, wingers Blair Stewart and Craig Patrick, defenseman Gord Smith and goalie Bernie Wolfe.

Additionally, there are three injured players in town. Center Ryan Walter has been given permission to begin light scrimmaging today, but defenseman Jack Lynch must wait at least three more weeks for similar action. Winger Tim Coulis figures to need a long recovery period for his broken wrist.

McNab hopes to trim the active roster a bit today, but the Capitals at Hershey and McNab said, "It's not an easy thing as far as placements are concerned. A lot of clubs are having trouble finding spots for excess players."

Today at Ford Dupont Belisle will superintend the first full-scale practice since he took over a week ago. The Capitals have home games Wednesday against Chicago and Friday against Los Angeles, and the empty seat situation at Capital Centre demands some positive performances.