For 3 1/4 seasons, Robert Picard and Rick Green have been the big men of the Washington Capitals' defense, rarely playing together but frequently inferring from critics that they were supposed to be doing the jobs of two defenders.

Tonights they were paired together, with highly satisfactory results. Picard was the No. 1 star and Green No. 2 as the Capitals battled the Quebec Nordiques to a 2-2 tie.

It was not a result that left either side in ecstasy. The Nordiques and their 10,643 fans were expecting a breeze over an injury-riddled patsy. The Capitals, whose winless streak reached nine games, desperately need a victory.

"I could taste the win," said Washington Coach Gary Green, now 0-5-2 in the NHL. "I hate reading those headlines about seeking first win. But I'll take the point from this one.

"I wanted Pic and Greener and Guy's (Charron) line against (Robbie) Ftorek's line and I got away matching lines pretty well for being on their ice. I thought everybody played much better today, but especially those guys."

Green revised his system, sending in only one forechecker and hanging back defensively.After the 6-1 loss to Buffalo, he felt changes were necessary. The switch of Ryan Walter to left wing alongside Charron was a key move, along with the pairing of Green and Picard.

Picard had been pointless the last five games and had not been on the ice for a single Washington goal, while accumulating nine minuses. He could not have felt much more depressed and the sight of Green on his left proved to be the best possible medicine.

"I was trying to do things I shouldn't do any playing with Greener helps me," Picard said. "He's been playing well lately and I've been struggling. Tonight whenever we were in trouble we talked and straightened things out. If he (Gary Green) wants to use us that way, fine."

Playing here gave Picard a lift, too. He signed with the Nordiques in 1977, only to have the contract voided after he had said that he would "rather sell pizzas in Quebec than play in Washington."

"The people were yelling at me before the game, things like, 'Where's your pizzeria?' and that little reminder helped get me up," Picard said.

The Capitals outshot Quebec, 26-22, and played a superb defensive game. Still, that devastating line of Ftorek, Marc Tardif and Buddy Cloutier managed two goals, both the result of superb passing.

Ftorek opened the scoring by converting a blind pass in the slot from the off-balance Tardif. Cloutier created the final score early in the third period with his 16th goal, off sharp passes by Gerry Hart and Ftorek.

Both Washington goals came in the second period. Charron netted his second in two games after just 16 seconds, rebounding a drive by Picard.

Gord Lane sent the Capitals into a temporary 2-1 lead with his second goal of the season. Pierre Plante blocked Lane's long shot, but Lane retrieved the puck, skated into the left-wing circle and beat goalie Michel Dion with a sizzling wrist shot.

With six minutes left in the game, Gary Green's taste for victory perked up when Wes Jarvis went in on a breakaway. Dion stopped him, however, and the tie stayed unbroken.

Wayne Stephenson was the Washington goalie and his teammates' cooperation made his life easier than usual. It was welcome relief.

Saturday night Stephenson stood on the airport runway in Baltimore, staring with glazed eyes at the Great Lakes Airlines propellor plane that carried the team here.

A flight attendant asked Gary Green, "I have a stupid question, but is that guy going to play the Nordiques himself?"

Green's "Who?" was followed by this from the hostess: "The guy who doesn't want to come."

Green went outside and persuaded Stephenson to make the flight. It was another example of the power of positive thinking. Now, about that first NHL victory?