The Washington Capitals will skate this morning at Fort Dupont, then disperse to celebrate Christmas before regrouping Wednesday in Toronto. Few players were expecting many goodies under the tree.

"Santa Claus didn't come through for us," captain Ryan Walter said after Saturday night's 2-1 loss to the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.

A well-padded Mr. Claus entertained the 14,855 fans, but any gifts he could spare were destined for the home club. The Capitals outshot the Islanders, 31-23, and had many more attempts sail wide and high as they vainly tried to tarnish the armor of shining knight Chico Resch.

There were occassional boos for the outplayed, sub-.500 home club, but Santa Claus and goalie Resch were warmly saluted, and by game's end chants of "Chi-co, Chi-co" filled the building.

The Capitals' only score was contributed by Walter late in the first period, creating a 1-1 tie. It was fortunate for referee Alf Lejeune that there was no Telscreen replay for the fans, because Walter was clearly standing in the crease when he deflected Robert Picard's slap shot.

"It was in the crease and just as I touched the puck, I noticed it and tried to get out," Walter said. "That's about the only way you can get it by a goalie who's as hot as that -- stand in his way.

"We had the momentum and I think if we had been able to get one more score we would have beaten them. When any of the top goaltenders in the league gets hot, you can look awfully hard and still not accomplish anything."

"He sure made some key saves," said Mike Gartner, who just missed the top corner on a first-period breakaway. "When the goaltender makes big saves at the right time, it makes it difficult. We had excellent goaltending, too. There wasn't much Rollie (Boutin) could do on those two shots (by Clark Gillies and Garry Howatt)."

"Every time we play him (Resch), he plays well," said Tom Rowe, who was frustrated on two breakaways in the second period. On the first, he was pulled down from behind by Jean Potvin without being awarded a penatly shot. On the second, Resch dove to block Rowe's shot with his shoulder.

Resch has an 8-1-1 record and a 1.02 goals-against mark, with four shutouts, for his lifetime work against Washington. Saturday, he slid out to block seemingly certain goals on low shots, then with what seemed a touch of ESP, he stood and handled the Captials attempts to lift the puck. Resch even reached out to glove a close-in pass from Walter to Mark Lofthouse.

It was not all skill. Resch confessed he never saw a third-period blast by Washington's Rolf Edberg that struck his helmet. Edberg then retrieved the puck and passed to Paul Mulvey, skating toward the empty net. The puck went under Mulvey's stick.

Defensively, the Capitals received an outstanding effort from Rick Green. Offensively, Picard broke out of a slump to equal his season high of seven shots, while Walter and Edberg matched yearly peaks with five apiece.