How do you keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen St. Louie?

Rollie Boutin was called up by the Washington Capitals from their Hersey (Pa.) Bears farm club in the American Hockey League just Saturday morning to replace goaltender Jim Bedard, who was sent down to the minors for some remedial work. He saw his first National Hockey League action Saturday night in the final 30 minutes of the Caps' 5-2 loss to the Blues in St. Louis.

Goalie Boutin was unscored upon, made some superb saves after a nervous start, and seemed to energize briefly his listless, exasperated teammates.

As a result, he probably will get his first big-league start Monday night when the staggering Caps (5-16-4) try to break a four-game losing streak against the Los Angeles Kings at The Forum (WTOP-1500 will join the 11:05 p.m. EST game in progress after Monday Night Football).

"I won't make up my mind until Monday, but I'm leaning toward Boutin," Coach Danny Belisle said as the Caps arrived in sunny Los Angeles today after performing miserably on a miserable night in drizzly, fogbound St. Louis.

The Los Angeles game is the second of an arduous four-game road trip that also will take the Caps to Denver Tuesday night and Vancouver Saturday. The team is 0-5-1 since beating the Blues in St. Louis Nov. 21 and now five points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins (8-13-3) and rapidly sinking deeper into the Norris Division cellar.

The Caps looked dreadful again, checking informidably and leaving their beleaguered goaltenders to cope as best they could with little assistance in the way of team defense.

One of the few positive impressions was made by Boutin, 21, the Caps' seventh selection in the 1977 amateur draft.

He replaced starter Bernie Wolfe -- who had given up four goals in 18 shots -- at 9:35 of the second period, after the Blues' second power-play goal in as many attempts made it 4-1.

After a hesitant start, Boutin made several superb saves and kept the Blues scoreless for 30 minutes, turning away 15 shots until he was pulled in the final minute of the game. Wayne Babych scored his second goal into an empty net with 12 seconds remaining after the Caps' Greg Carroll had made it 4-2 at 19:01.

Boutin had stopped 37 shots for Hershey as the Bears tied the Firebirds, 4-4, in Philadelphia Friday night. He drove to Washingtonsaturday morning and flew with the team to St. Louis, but was expected to be only a backup on this trip.

With Wolfe and the Capitals getting mugged, however, Belisle decided to put Boutin in the game so he could make an on-the-job evaluation. He liked what he saw, one of the few upbeat images of a night of blues.

"I didn't pull Wolfe because he was doing badly. I did it because the game was getting out of reach and I wanted to give the kid some action so I could make a judgment for the rest of the road trip," Belisle expained.

"I was pleased for him. I put him in an extremely difficult situation and expected him to be a little jittery. I liked the way he adjusted and got into it. He may have been nervous inside, but didn't look it. He played with a lot of confidence."

Going in cold, Boutin appeared scared to death initially, but made a great save on a two-on-one break in his first minute, got "stuck in" and played exceptionally well in the third period.

"That's the way I saw it," agreed Belisle. "The lift he gave us was quite noticeable. I was encouraged.

"But he still has to be handled with kid gloves. Let's be realistic -- this is the National Hockey League and he's played half a game. He was on an emotional high. We'll have to wait and see."

Guy Charron, playing left wing instead of center and uncharacteristically wearing a helmet, registered his seventh goal of the season in the first period. He has now scored goals in three consecutive games. The Caps' record is four straight games -- achieved 10 times previously, four times by Charron.

The St. Louis power play that converted only 17 of 84 opportunities going into Saturday's game made good on two of three advantages against Washington.... The Caps, meanwhile, got only one shot on goal during two impotent power plays, although their second advantage was neutralized after 1:23 by a dubious tripping penalty called on steady defenseman Rick Green... The Caps have scored in 13 of the last 15 periods they have played, but were outshot, 17-6, and shut out in the decisive second period at St. Louis.

The Blues continued to get spectacular production from their firework line of center Bernie Federko (one goal, three assists), right wing Babych (two goals) and left wing Brian Sutter (one assist).