It's like there's a sniper out there, cutting us down one by one. -- Mike Gartner

The sniper that has plagued the Washington Capitals throughout their 6 1/2-year existence is stepping up his activity. It is a rare in sports history that has had six regulars chopped down in three games.

When goaltender Dave Parro lay on the ice with a dislocated shoulder late in the second period at Calgary Thursday night, it defied belief. He followed to the disabled list centers Guy Charron, dislocated shoulder, and Rolf Edberg, broken jaw, both of whom had departed in the first 6 1/2 minutes of the game.

On Tuesday in Vancouver the Capitals lost defensemen Pat Ribble and Howard Walker, both with bruised spleens, and goalie Mike Palmateer, with ligament damage to his left ankle.

Defenseman Rick Green went out Saturday with a severe groin pull. The club earlier had lost defensemen Paul MacKinnon for the season after knee surgery.

Palmateer, who watched the replay of Parro's injury while manning the press box phones, later volunteered to tend goal against the Los Angeles Kings here Saturday night (WTOP-1500 at 10).

"I hadn't planned to skate for four or five days, but now I'll get myself ready," Palmateer said. "It can't do any more damage."

A year ago Palmateer suffered ligament damage of a more severe nature to the same ankle but returned after a month's recuperation because of media comments that he was dogging it. He aggravated the injury and missed another month. He vowed at the time that he would never do it again and only Tuesday said, after he caught his skate in a rut and had to remove himself from the game, "There's no way you want to turn a simple injury into something that will keep you out a while. I've had that happen enough."

However, with Parro out for a month or more and Wayne Stephenson obviously lacking sharpness, Palmateer offered to fill the gap. It was all in the spirit of togetherness, of closing the ranks, that was expounded by the survivors of the Western Canada massacre.

"The season's not going to end if we have 15 guys out," said Gartner, who scored both Washington goals and did a marvelous backchecking job in the 5-2 loss at Calgary. "We have to do the best we can with what we've got."

Yvon Labre, who has battled chronic knee problems since undergoing surgery 15 months ago, flew here today from Washington to give the club a six-man defensive unit against the speedy Kings. Ribble, who was examined in Washington today, also wanted to play, but was told to avoid contact until next week.

Parro achieved sudden prominence as an emergency replacement when Palmateer and Stephenson were injured. The Capitals may have come up with another surprise in defenseman Jay Johnston, who made his NHL debut in excellent fashion Thursday night blocking shots and throwing major-league body checks.

"I thought Jay played the body well," Coach Gary Green said. "His toughness was very inspiring to us."

No amount of bright spots could eliminate the cloud casy by the injury to Parro, however. He was playing his 10th game, his goals-against average down to a remarkable 2.54, and he had been outstanding as the Capitals not only were holding Calgary to a 1-1 tie, but were gaining control of the play. Stephenson, making his first appearance since Jan. 4 and second since Dec. 14, was beaten on the first shot he faced, seven seconds after Parro left, and it was downhill the rest of the night.

Parro was hurt when he struck his shoulder on the ice diving to his left for a rebound after blocking a shot by Kent Nilsson. The shoulder was the same one he dislocated in a softball game last summer. Although General Manager Max McNab was optimistic today, after the shoulder was popped back in and taped by assistant trainer Billy Bozak, Parro was geared for the worst.

"If things go all right, I should be out about a month," Parro said. "But there's a chance I may need surgery. They say when it happens a second time like that it can be a little touchy.

"It couldn't have come at a worse time. Things were going so well and this has to happen. But I can't get down. I just have to recuperate as fast as I can."

Edberg was told by a physician in Calgary that he would need to have his jaw wired. He was nailed by a solid shoulder check to the left side of the face by the Flames' Phil Russell. The impact broke the right jawbone.

Charron also was the victim of a legal check by Russell, knocked to the ice near the boards a few minutes earlier.

Parro, Edberg, Charron and Walker all flew into Washington tonight, with further examinations scheduled Saturday.