Yvon Labre watched the Washington Capitols take a 6-1 beating in Toronto Monday night and was unable to contain his anger and his frustration, at what he saw and how powerless he was to do anything about it.

"They can't go with four defensemen," Labre said. "In a game like this, if I could maybe have played two or three shifts it would have helped them, given somebody a chance to rest."

Labre may be given that opportunity tonight, when the St. Louis Blues visit Capital Centre for a 7:30 contest. Labre is not ready to play and he knows it as well as anyone, but if Pat Ribble cannot dress, then either Labre will, or Alan Hangsleben must move back on defense full time, leaving another gap up front.

"It's been a long time and I wouldn't know how I'd do unless they put me out there," said Labre, who underwent knee surgery Nov. 27. "The knee isn't strong and I'm afraid if I get tired and then get hit, it could be serious. But we've got to do something."

"Ribble skated yesterday and today and he said the knee (banged up on March 15) felt better," said General Manager Max McNab. "He may be able to play tomorrow.We need help. You can't have your defensemen worrying about getting a penalty or afraid to get mixed up in things."

McNab is not calling anyone a coward -- far from it. But each of the Capitals' four defensemen knows that if he is sitting in the penalty box, then his colleagues must work extra hard. None of them is physically prepared for such overtime.

Robert Picard, Rick Green, Pierre Bouchard and Paul MacKinnon, the quartet that has skated one shift on and one shift off since Ribble's injury, all have ailments of their own that would keep an ordinary man home from work. Playing a body-contact sport does not enhance recuperation.

Knees and shoulders are the principal problem areas on the defense; up front the specialty is taped ribs. There was no surprise and no recriminations after Monday's game. Each player knew, despite the obvious deficiencies -- giveaways in the defensive zone, lack of forechecking pressure up front -- that his teammates had given all they had to give.

"I'm not too bad, there are a lot of guys hurting worse than I am," Picard said, although his training-room time would indicate otherwise. "We're not practicing, so we're able to rest for games. We've got to win tomorrow. Everybody expects it."

In the NHL playoff picture, Edmonton's 5-4 victory over Atlanta last night moved the Oilers into the No. 15 spot with 62 points, and dropped Detroit to No. 16, and Washington to No. 17. Vancouver, losing to Pittsburgh, 4-2, dropped to the 18th spot. All three have 61 points, but Detroit and Washington lead VVancouver because of a higher win total. The top 16 teams make the playoffs.

"Toronto was the fourth game in six nights and I'm afraid it showed," said Green, whose skating difficulties were painfully evident as Toronto's John Anderson sprinted away from him on a breakaway.

"There are only six games left and we all have to make some sacrifices. I'm trying to get lots of rest and lots of food and make the best of it."

"It wasn't so bad with five of us alternating, but four is tough, particularly when you have to play two nights in a row," said MacKinnon, who limped off with a charley-horse during Saturday's 6-2 loss in St. Louis. w"The leg is better, it's working its way out, and I should be OK tomorrow. If Rib (Pat Ribble) gets back, we'll be all right."

Following tonight's game, the Capitals will have a chance to rest at home before undertaking a crucial, brutal weekend schedule. They face Philadelphia here Saturday night in what is sure to be a physical game, then they travel to Pittsburgh for a Sunday afternoon contest.

Although the Blues and Flyers are the NHL's most improved teams, Coach Gary Green is hopeful that home ice and friendly fans will alleviate some of the bumps and bruises.

"We've played well at home except for 10 minutes against Minnesota," Green said. "We have six games left, four at home, and we need four wins to give us a playoff spot. I don't care who the other team is, if we play our game and do what we're capable of, we can win."