Minnesota goalie Giles Meloche, starting his first game since Dec. 15 tonight, hardly noticed he was no longer resting. Meloche turned aside 20 shots, none particularly difficult, as the North Stars dealt the Washington Capitals their first shutout of the season, 3-0.

Bobby Smith scored twice and Kent-Erik Andersson once. Except for the fine work of Mike Palmateer in the Washington goal, this one could have been 8-0.

Whether Palmateer, who has started seven straight games, can continue his heroics in Sunday's 7 p.m. Capital Centre contest against Philadelphia is questionable. He suffered a slight pull in his left thigh and encased it in an icepack after the game.

Not only were the Capitals outclassed, they were outhit by a Minnesota team that was running its winning streak to five games.

"Our aim was to take the man out to hit them and slow them down," said Washington Coach Gary Green. "But you have to catch them to hit them. They're a fast hockey club and they were skating exceptionally well, just like Montreal.

"It's tough to come down hard on your team after a game like that. Talent-wise and speed-wise, Minnesota had the edge on us. We're hurting a bit against fast teams, expecially on the road, where they get the last change. They were trying to match the Smith line against our third and fourth lines, and we can't let them do that."

At one point, on a faceoff in Minnesota ice, Green had Archie Henderson and Alan Hangsleben stand next to the bench and jump off when the puck was dropped. In the third period, Hangsleben moved back to defense as Green chose to go with six defenders and three lines, even though Minnesota was skating four lines.

"Our defense, particularly the young guys, showed signs of being a step behind," Green said. "They were obviously concerned trying to stand up against their speed."

For Meloche, it was the 15th career shutout, second against Washington. The Capitals had not ben shut out in 42 games since Greg Millen did it in Pittsburgh on March 30, 1980. Minnesota had not shut out an opponent since Dec. 26, 1979.

Palmateer fought off the North Stars until 7:46 of the second period. With Washington's Rick Green off for hooking, Smith took a drop pass from Al MacAdam in the right wing circle and beat Palmateer over the goalie's right shoulder.

Late in the second period, Andersson's shot dropped out of Palmateer's glove and Andersson was able to sweep in the rebound for his 10th goal. Smith scored his second goal of the night and 17th of the season at 13:09 of the third period, converting a two-on-one break with MacAdam.

The North Stars showed some muscle in the final period, with defenseman Curt Giles sending both Bengt Gustafsson and Ryan Walter off the ice for repairs.

Gustafsson, playing despite the flu, bruised a finger that had once been broken when Giles, caught him with a blueline check. Then Giles, going after Mike Gartner with stick high, caught Walter with his backswing and the Capitals' captain was cut across the forehead.

Fred Barrett and Ron Zanussi also landed thumping checks, but there was little response from the Capitals until Dennis Maruk hammered Gordie Roberts behind the Minnesota net with 1:55 left. Roberts went after Maruk, every player on the ice became involved and referee Dave Newell handed out 89 minutes in penalties, with Roberts receiving a major and Maruk getting off unscathed despite his blatant interference.

"I was surprised I didn't get a penalty," Maruk said. "I guess they don't see everything. I was desperate and we were desperate and I was ready to try anything and hope for a miracle. It just didn't work."

Already a man up, the Capitals yanked Palmateer for another extra forward with 1:32 remaining, in hopes of breaking the shutout, but managed only one more shot.