Don Cherry and Fred Shero are the leading candidates to replace Gary Green as coach of the Washington Capitals. They, as well as Bryan Murray and a fourth man so far unidentified, have been asked to come here in the next few days for meetings with owner Abe Pollin, who will make the final decision.

Cherry's invitation is a surprise, because Pollin went on record two years ago, in one of his last full-fledged press conferences, as saying that Cherry "is not my kind of guy." However, the need to enliven the hockey scene here, as well as win, obviously has changed Pollin's mind.

Cherry may not come anyway. The man who brought Boston within a sniff of the Stanley Cup in 1978 is a commentator for Hockey Night in Canada, as well as being committed to attend a number of banquets.

"I'll have to see the lay of the land," Cherry said from his home in Englewood, Colo. "I've been having so much fun doing the banquets and I've got a lot of commitments. I'd have a lot of things to straighten out.

"I have to talk things over with my wife and then I want to talk to them (the Capitals) again. I don't know whether I'll be in or not. I like the blend on the team, with (Mike) Gartner and (Ryan) Walter. I don't understand why they're not doing better."

Shero, who won two Stanley Cups with Philadelphia, still has a contract commitment with the New York Rangers, who fired him as general manager and coach a year ago, when he admitted to a drinking problem. He said he was leaving all negotiations with the Capitals up to agent Mark Stewart.

"Oh, yes, I'd like to get back in the game again, especially in the big leagues," Shero said from his home in Rye, N.Y. "You don't necessarily have to be with a top team.

"You know, you're always miserable when you're coaching, but you're more miserable sitting around. I'm like the guy who looks forward to a year's vacation and gets tired of it after three weeks."

Murray was in New Haven, Conn., last night with the Hershey Bears. The Hershey club was scheduled to leave for New Haven early Wednesday afternoon, but the bus' departure was delayed several hours to see whether Washington would call. It did, but the result was an invitation to a meeting, not a summons to coach.

Murray has the support of Roger Crozier, the Capitals' acting general manager and acting coach, but it is apparent that Crozier will play a minor role in the selection process. And Pollin seemingly would prefer a big-name coach.

Crozier apparently will be behind the bench tonight when the Rangers are in Capital Centre for an important 8 o'clock contest. New York is fourth in the Patrick Division, eight points ahead of Washington, and a loss by the Capitals would put them further in arrears as they try for a first-ever playoff spot.

"We have to beat the New York Rangers," captain Ryan Walter said yesterday. "We're paid to win hockey games. Whether it's classified as a new season in the papers or by the coaches or whatever, we know that our season started in September and we've got a lot of ground to make up."

Crozier watched yesterday's practice at Fort Dupont for about an hour, then returned to his Capital Centre office -- just-fired general manager Max McNab's remained dark -- and moved on to other business, an evaluation of the organization's talent with Jack Button, director of player recruitment.

Conducting the practice on the ice was Yvon Labre, lone surviving member of the coaching staff, who soon discovered the reason for Green's frustration.

"Guys, I gave you positions to skate to," Labre shouted, after stopping the workout. "The play's going in there and we're making passes and nobody's there. You've got to be in the right position."

Later, Labre elaborated on his anger: "We've got a lot of confusion to get rid of. I told them to skate and shoot and stop asking questions. We've had enough of that. I just worked on a simple breakout from our zone that I learned from Tom McVie and I believe in. If they don't understand it, they can watch somebody else do a walk-through. But we've had too much stopping of practice to talk."

There was a lighter atmosphere at practice, with players shouting at each other and in one case chanting "De-fense" during a drill.

"I think that's going to happen anytime you have this situation," Walter said. "If you have a six-person family and one person is injured or killed, you pull together. That was our family and now we have a new family coming. The basis of our family has to pull together."

For a further fillip, the Ranger game, the seventh home game on Nov. 7, marks Yvon Labre Night, with Labre's No. 7 jersey to be formally retired. Pollin presented Labre the jersey a year ago and said nobody else ever would wear it.