Whether Bob Sirois' return to action tonight can lift the Washington Capitals out of the doldrums is problematical. It is certain, however, that Sirois' own depression will be lifted.

"I am going crazy," Sirois said. "Another week without playing and I don't know what I'd do. When you have surgery, you know you can't play and you can live with it. But when you hurt your back it's so aggravating. You wake up in the morning and you wonder, whether you can play today. I hate that."

Sirois pulled some back muscles on Oct. 20 in Pittsburgh and thought, at worst, that he might miss the next game. Instead, he has played only once in the ensuing 39 days, reinjuring the back on Nov. 10 against Buffalo.

"I never thought I would be out more than five weeks," Sirois said. "Each year I have a little pain in the lower back and it goes away in a day or two. This time I couldn't move, even walk, for four or five days.

"When I played against Buffalo, it was my decision, I thought I was ready, I was feeling good, but I pulled it again. I'm more than disappointed, I'm disgusted. I just wish I could play one full year in this league."

This is Sirois' fifth NHL season and last year's 73 games were his career high. So were his 29 goals and he could taste No. 30 until he suffered a ruptured thigh muscle, requiring surgery, on March 24. Thirty seemed a reasonable target this season, until the back intervened.

Still, if Sirois can come back and help the Capitals into the playoffs, he is willing to postpone personal goals. He and every player on the team would willingly accept a pointless night and all kind of minuses if the Capitals could beat Toronto at Captial Centre tonight and bury that nine game winless string.

"I've been watching most of the games and a couple of times the team did not seem ready in the first period," Sirois said. "except for that, they've been playing good hockey. They have not been fortunate on offense and every time they make a mistake on defense the other team scores.

"But we'll start winning and things will turn around.We need to get a goal at the right time and not make those little mistakes that burn us."

Sirois probably will start at left wing tonight, with Bengt Gustafsson at center and Tom Rowe on the right side. That would give the Capitals two solid lines, since the Ryan Walter-Guy Charron-Mark Lofthouse trio has been impressive following Charron's return on Saturday.

Defenseman Yvon Labre had both cartilages removed from his damaged right knee during surgery yesterday. Since Labre had ligament damage to the same knee repaired two years ago, he faces a difficult rehabilitation process.

Dr. Pat Palumbo, who operated on Labre at Arlington Hospital, pronounced the surgery a success, but cautioned that the knee is in serious condition. Palumbo said he though Labre would be able to play again, but with certain limitations concerning his skating.

Toronto, which beat the Capitals here, 5-3, in October, is concluding its Capital Centre competition without center Darryl Sittler. He suffered a severely sprained ankle Saturday, it is in a cast and he is unlikely to return before Christmas.

Washington Coach Gary Green flew to Atlanta last night to scout the Maple Leafs. He is anxious to welcome his first NHL victory before his first child, expected about New Year's Day by his wife, Sharon.