The Washington Capitals worked out in nearby Verdun yesterday, preparing for tonight's televised battle with the New York Islanders (WDCA-TV 20, 8 p.m.) at Nassau Coliseum. It required extra effort just to lace up the skates.

"In three years, this is the first time I ever wished for a day off," said defenseman Robert Pieard. "I don't have any legs. I didn't have any legs in the third period last night. You'd sit on the bench and wonder how you could put one foot in front of the other and get out there again. Today I just have to float through it."

There were few floaters Thursday night, when the Capitals dropped a 4-2 decision here to the mighty Canadiens. Against Montreal's relentless pressure and the fans' highly vocal criticism, it is necessary to give 109 percent or endure humiliation.

There are players who wilt under such stress, others who thrive on it. Picard is one who thrives.

"That's what the game is all about," he said. "Playing the best where the people appreciate that is the best. I guess I have an advantage because I played junior here and I know these guys. But I look forward to coming here and playing.

"Even the officials get psyched up for the games. They call things here they don't call anywhere else. It can be frustrating sometimes, but all you can do is say, 'Just because you're in Montreal, huh?' and then they'll turn and smile at you.

"It certainly isn't easy. They were even booing Guy Lafleur. I wish the fans would come out in Washington like this, but I hope we never have 16,000 people getting on us the way they can get on you here.

"You can't go through the motions here. This is it. This is where the NHL began. It's something special and you've got to enjoy it, win or lose. Just once, though, I wish we'd win."

Picard obtained some personal satisfaction from the Capitals' 13th straight Forum defeat because he scored a goal in his hometown for the first time as an NHL player. Among the spectators was his grandfather, watching Picard play hockey in person for the first time.

"He was always in too poor health to see me before," Picard said. "It made it even more exciting for me. My whole family was there and a lot of my friends. I'm glad I was able to score a goal, but I'd rather have a point in the standings."

Gilles Picard, Robert's father, is a scout for the Capitals. Like his son, he is big and strong and not to be provoked. Robert recalled an incident from his junior days, when Gilles became more than a trifle angry.

"We were playing at Cornwall (Ontario) and I was hammering a guy when somebody threw a lighter at me," Picard recalled. "It gashed my neck and I needed three stiches. But the guy who threw it happened to be sitting near my father. He never saw the stairs. The poor guy went head first into the glass."

He couldn't have felt much worse than Washington General Manager Max McNab, still stag at the ice from his press box seat after the teams had skated off Thursday night.

"The Canadiens ware really buzzing McNab said. "It was like they were made at somebody. You're probably better off not seeing the game. You come out of here thinking you don't have anything at all."