Dennis Maruk and Pat Ribble engaged in some spirited exchanges, both physical and verbal, during the Washington Capitals' practice today at Pacific Coliseum. They were showing more life than they had in some recent games and, if the Capitals are to dig themselves out of their present hole, there must be far more emotion from all hands, but especially from Maruk.

"Maruk is a very key guy," said General Manager Max McNab, who spent the morning behind closed doors with his Vancouver counterpart, Jake Milford. "He's an emotional player and our team is devoid of emotion right now. Maruk can get you going. When he plays well, historically, the team goes well."

Maruk has scored six goals in nine games, but he also owns the Capitals' worst performance rating, minus seven. It was not until his two-goal effort Saturday on Long Island that he looked like the 50-goal scorer of a year ago. He is aware he has not been playing up to his potential.

"I've gotten my thoughts back together," Maruk said. "I've had a couple of personal problems but now I'm starting to get my head on straight. My attitude is better and I think I'm playing better.

"I've played with a lot of different guys over the last few games. I know you're supposed to play with anybody, but you have to know where each other are on the ice and we've had cases where we didn't know where a guy would be."

Maruk started the season with last year's linemates, Bob Kelly and Jean Pronovost. Then he skated with Bengt Gustafsson and Roland Stoltz. After a brief reunion with Kelly and Pronovost, he found himself on Saturday doing fourth-line duty with Ryan Walter and Todd Bidner.

Maruk, like management, is hoping the current road trip will promote togetherness. There are six rookies on the club and it has not been easy to work them in, considering all the distractions in Europe and during the first two weeks of the season, spent largely on finalizing living arrangements at home.

"We need some time to get together off the ice," Maruk said. "Maybe on this road trip we'll find something and get together. When you're winning, you get together a lot to eat and talk, but when you're losing you just want to get away. It's been quiet on the ice, too. There hasn't been enough communication. Maybe it all comes with getting to know each other."

Despite the team's 1-8 start, Maruk thinks there is reason for positive thinking about the future.

"We've been playing some good hockey teams," Maruk said. "We thought we'd get some points from them, but we didn't. The teams we're playing on this trip (Vancouver, Los Angeles, Colorado) are at our level. We know we can do well against them.

"We just didn't get any breaks in those nine games. We didn't quit. Any quitters won't be playing on this team. We put up a good fight against the Islanders and now we've got to go against the lesser clubs."

Center Glen Currie has been sent back to Hershey, Pa. Currie had one goal in five games . . . The latest speculation on a trade speculates on a deal sending Capitals Maruk and Rick Green to Hartford for Mark Howe.