The Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks, who will meet here Wednesday night, have much in common. Neither team has produced a victory in its last seven games.

Barring a tie, that streak will end for one of the teams, and Washington defenseman Paul MacKinnon believes the Capitals are about to break loose.

"We're due to get a bounce our way," MacKinnon said. "We've lost some tough games. We haven't played that poorly the last couple of games. I think the team will go. I think we're ready to snowball.

MacKinnon's future seemed bright when he joined the team in 1979, but that season was marred when a puck struck him in the face in Minnesota, breaking both jaw and cheekbone. When he returned after a 17-game layoff, his play was hampered by the mask he was forced to wear.

Last year, MacKinnon started off fast, plus five after nine games and seemingly headed for an excellent season. But in the 10th game, in Denver, he suffered torn knee ligaments and did not play again until the final four games of the season.

Now MacKinnon says the knee is 100 percent and he should be playing up to his old form. He isn't, however, and nobody is more aware of that fact than he is.

"Being away, it's tough," MacKinnon said. "I missed almost a full season. Now, at times I find myself lost on the ice. Things that came so naturally before, things you do day in and day out, are not automatic, and I find myself thinking about it before I do it.

"I'm not moving the puck as quickly as I was. There are a lot of little things, position-wise, that aren't quite right. It's come along. I feel more confident now than in the first couple of exhibition games. But it's going to take time."

There have been suggestions that the injuries have made MacKinnon hesitant, but he denies it.

"I don't really think about it," he said. "Last year was the only time I was ever seriously hurt, where I missed most of a season. Even being hit in the face was a freaky thing. The knee is fine now. There's no excuse that way."

The fans at Capital Centre have been impatient with MacKinnon, as they have with all the Capitals during this woeful 1-8 start, and he does not blame them for it.

"It's human nature; they want us to win, to play well and to be successful," MacKinnon said. "It's human nature to become dissatisfied when things don't go well. I don't think they mean to be bad. It's just an emotional release. Some spectators are so involved, so much a part, they almost think they're on the ice."

Coach Gary Green, in this era of emphasis on scoring, has attempted to persuade his defensemen to increase their participation in the offense. It has not been easy for MacKinnon, who has scored only two NHL goals and never had more than two in any of his junior seasons, when he served as Green's captain at Peterborough, Ontario.

"You have to do what got you here," MacKinnon said. "You can't expect me to score goals. People have limitations and you have to play within your limitations. It's not very often a defenseman gets a chance to take off. You have to pick your spots. I had a couple of chances the other night I thought were in, but they didn't make it."

Conversely, MacKinnon still can't believe the Islanders' Duane Sutter scored Saturday to begin New York's rally from a 2-0 deficit. The puck struck Sutter as MacKinnon was clearing him from the front of the net, then deflected past goalie Dave Parro.

"We've had problems as a team in our own end. We're not really working as a team," he said. "I think a lot of it is not knowing each other. We have so much youth around, a lot of raw talent as far as skating and shooting. But the young kids are lacking in positional play, checking-wise, running interference, things that come with experience.

"I can see improvement every day. We have to put the losses in the past where they belong and concentrate on each game coming up. We have to help each other out, communicate on the ice, talk to each other. It'll turn around."