Coach Gary Green planned a rigorous practice for his Washington Capitals yesterday, following that awful 3-0 loss in Atlanta Thursday night. At the scheduled time of 2 p.m., however, the Capitals' plane was circling Baltimore-Washington International Airport, so the club got a day off.

Green, who figured that gave many of his players two days off in a row, was asked how he felt about the cancellation and he replied, "I'm upset, but I can't very well throw anything while the plane is in the air."

The Capitals were scheduled for a 9:30 a.m. departure from Atlanta, but did not take off until 11:45. Their flight arrived late and was delayed while repairs were made to broken seats.

Then, instead of landing at BWI, as scheduled, the plane circled for almost 90 minutes while the pilot vainly waited for the fog to lift. Finally, the flight was diverted to Washington National, landing at 2:45 p.m.

During the extended air time, Green tried to boost his savaged morale by working out some statistics.He calculated that the Capitals, since Dec. 15, had a .500 record, ranking them 11th in the 21-team NHL.

"(General Manager) Max (McNab) said that during the summer everything was geared to a .500 finish in the middle of the pack," Green said. "Do you think we can make an appeal to the league to drop the first 30 games?" "

While their coach fumed and figured, the players endured the boredom philosophically, cheered up by the cancellation of what had promised to be a grueling hour on the ice.

Goalie Wayne Stephenson tried to dispel his fear of flying by helping Paul Mulvey and the flight attendants pass out peanuts and soft drinks. Tim Coulis mastered an electronic football game. Antero Lehtonen disputed the views of Rolf Edberg and Bengt Gustafsson on last night's Finland-Sweden Olympic matchup.

Piling into cabs at National, one group of players was greeted by a taxi-driving hockey fan from Jamaica, Robert Grandison, who asked the question so many are pondering these days: 'Will you tell me something? Why do you guys win one night and lose the next?"

"It's a good question," Edberg replied. "I wish I could answer it."

Grandison cheered up the travel-weary Caps by saying, "I've found out driving around that people are giving up on the Bullets and now they're looking to the Caps to do something."

The next chance to do something comes this afternoon at 1:30, when the Capitals face the Chicago Black Hawks at Capital Centre. On the Hawks' last visit, Dec. 28, the Capitals rolled up a 6-2 victory that McNab considers the best overall performance of the season.

Green's figuring, however, revealed that Chicago has earned two-thirds of its possible points since Dec. 15, ranking third in the NHL behind Philadelphia and St. Louis. The Hawks have lost only one of their last 11 games.

"They've got Espo (goalie Tony Esposito) and he's a perfect example of a guy who means 10 wins a year all by himself." McNab said.