The temperature is 75, give or take a few degrees, and a warm breeze is gently blowing in off the Pacific. There isn't a cloud in the sky.

Not exactly an atmosphere conducive to work.

But Gary Green, coach of the Washington Capitals, didn't bring his last-place Patrick Division club here -- 40 miles south of smoggy Los Angeles -- to sit around in lounge chairs and sip cool drinks.

While Green is hoping the rest will do some good, what he really wants is for everyone to concentrate on a big problem: qualifying for the National Hockey League playoffs.

If the playoffs had begun today, the Caps' 15-30-9 record wouldn't be good enough to qualify. Even the NHL, which allows 16 of its 21 teams to participate in its postseason affair, has some standards.

"I wanted to give our guys a kind of break. It's almost like a holiday, I suppose," Green said after Tuesday night's 5-2 victory over Los Angeles. iThe Caps arrived here Saturday after beating Winnipeg the previous evening and will depart, reluctantly, for Edmonton Tuesday. They will play the Oilers Friday night.

"I wanted everybody to get a rest," Green said. "I know they can use it. But that doesnt's mean we forget about hockey. We've worked hard here every night. We've got a goal and that's to make the playoffs.

"I'm hoping a little sun will help restore our strength. With all the injuries, we surely need it. Just as long as nobody gets burned."

Recently, only Capital opponents have been getting burned. The club is 2-0-1 on this trip, 4-3-2 in its last nine games.

One of the main reasons for Washington's success is that its offense, dormant most of the season, has come to life. Led by Ryan Walter, the Caps have scored 11 goals in two games. Walter scored two goals in each game and has 11 points (six goals, five assists) in the last 10.

Walter, whose 17 goals are second on the team to Mike Gartner's 18, leads the squad in assists (27) and points (44). He is helping make up for the absence of injured stars Dennis Maruk and Guy Charron, the Caps' top two scorers a year ago.

"He's one of the few guys who hasn't been hurt," said Green, crossing his fingers. "But he's such a workhorse that you have to watch him carefully. I've tried to give him a rest every now and then lately and it's paid off."

If the Caps are going to make the playoffs, however, their defense will have to tighten up considerably. No one is more aware of that than Wayne Stephenson, who has had postseason experience with the Philadelphia Flyers.

"We know what we have to do; it's just a matter of doing it," said Stephenson, who improved his career record against the Kings to 12-4-2. "Of course, that isn't so easy, eh?"

The 35-year-old goalkeeper, with a little help from his friends (Rick Green, Robert Picard, Bob Sirois and Walter), made it look easy against Los Angeles, the second-best scoring team in the league that was bolstered by the return of left wing Charlie Simmer.

"I don't know what it is about them (the Kings). I've had good luck against them," Stephenson acknowledged "This was much better than the last time out here (a 5-3 loss Oct. 24)."

It took Rolf Edberg 76 games to score 14 goals last season, but he has surpassed that total already. He scored No. 15 to give the Caps a 3-2 lead in the second period against L.A., his 38th game of 1970-80 . . . Bengt Gustafsson failed to score on a penalty shot with 2:45 remaining in the first period against Ron Grahame. Referee Ron Hoggarth called for the shot after Gustafsson was tripped by Randy Manery. Gustafsson skated straight in on Grahame, deked right, then aimed for the lower left-hand corner. Grahame made the save with his right leg. "I thought he played it right. The shot was just a little off," Green said. "Grahame just made a nice save." Nine penalty shots have been taken against Los Angeles in regular-season play and all have been stopped.