Owner Abe Pollin began a series of interviews yesterday with candidates for the Washington Capitals' vacant coaching job. As far as most of the players are concerned, he could have stopped after the first session, with Hershey Coach Bryan Murray.

Murray, who directed practice yesterday for the third straight day, apparently will be behind the Capitals' bench tonight with Roger Crozier, the acting general manager-coach, when Washington plays the Pittsburgh Penguins at Capital Centre at 7:30.

There had been hope that a permanent coach would be selected before the key game against another Patrick Division rival, but the interviews with the other candidates -- Don Cherry, Fred Shero and, reportedly, Phil Esposito -- have been spread out, making a quick decision unlikely.

The players do not consider a delay in Pollin's deliberations to be a negative factor. Instead, they expect to use the base Murray has given them to turn things around against Pittsburgh and end the 12-game losing streak that brought about the firing of coach Gary Green and general manager Max McNab.

"As far as we're concerned, Bryan Murray is the coach right now," said the team captain, Ryan Walter. "On the ice and off, Bryan is in charge, unless things change. We've had good practices and we're looking forward to a good game."

"Bryan Murray is in full control," said winger Bob Kelly. "He's given us good direction out there. He has confidence and he gives us confidence. I thought Saturday with him behind the bench we played a much better game."

Leading the New York Rangers, 1-0, after one period, the Capitals eventually lost, 3-1, and Murray later cited the lack of conditioning as a key factor. He has worked the team hard this week and the players have responded to it.

"There's a lot of life out there," said center Tim Tookey. "We've had a lot of yelling on the ice that we didn't have before. We're talking to each other. I'm in good shape now, because I've gotten extra skating time I wasn't getting before."

"When he first came last year we didn't know how to take him, because he was tough, but as he got to know us he eased off a bit," said goalie Dave Parro, who played for Murray at Hershey. "He is a disciplinarian, but if you do your job, there's no problem.

"We can't sit and worry about who's going to be the coach, because that would take away from our game. We just have to worry about winning."

"There's no confusion among us because of the coaching situation," said rookie Bobby Carpenter. "We've had a couple of good practices under a good coach and now we're looking for a good game."

"We don't know anything about who the coach or general manager is going to be," said defenseman Rick Green. "The guys just put that aside. Bryan's in charge, and we listen and do what he says. We know what we have to do on the ice and we're going to come out flying tomorrow."

Right wing Roland Stoltz missed yesterday's practice and it now appears that he will return to Sweden, rather than take a demotion to Hershey. Stoltz, who recorded two goals and two assists in 14 games, reportedly has been feeling homesick for some time.

Right wing Bengt Gustafsson, strained knee, and defenseman Greg Theberge, hip pointer, practiced yesterday and both are capable of playing today, although neither would be 100 percent.