With only one victory in their last eight games and facing a 10-point gap in that elusive playoff quest, the Washington Capitals, who lost here to the Sabres, 3-2, Sunday night, must upgrade their personnel very quickly or start thinking of draft day.

General Manager Roger Crozier has both facets of the future on his mind, as he prepares for a Tuesday flight to Minnesota and a look at three Washington draftees of past years now performing in the World Junior Tournament--Swedish defenseman Peter Andersson, American defenseman Tony Kellin and Finnish center Risto Jalo.

"Most of the NHL general managers will be there and I'll be talking to them," Crozier said. "My feeling at this time is that we have to do something."

Crozier has discussed deals with Pittsburgh, Chicago and Minnesota involving the Capitals' No. 1 pick in the June entry draft. In each case, he was offered packages of players who were not contributing much to their current clubs. They would probably help the Capitals, but the question is, how much?

Is it worth a modest improvement, with the likelihood of missing the playoffs anyway, to give up a shot at a potential superstar like right wing Brian Bellows of Kitchener or defenseman Gary Nilan of Portland?

"I've just received the Central Scouting ratings and this next draft is going to be an exceptional one," Crozier said. "There are some awfully good people who will be available, like Bellows, Nilan and (Ken) Yaremchuk, people you can build a team around."

Washington ranks 20th now, two points ahead of Colorado, three behind 19th-place Detroit and four in back of No. 18 Hartford. With a more difficult schedule the rest of the way than the other principal Bellows contenders--all of whom have traded away their No. 1 pick--the Capitals with no roster changes are a reasonable bet to finish 20th or 21st and come up with a top player in the draft.

On the other hand, a playoff spot is important to the Washington franchise. This is the Capitals' eighth year and loyal fans are disgruntled over the club's failure to reach the playoffs. "

The club's principal problem area right now is defense, a situation that will be helped by the return of injured Rick Green, currently projected for Saturday. Nilan could rejuvenate things on a permanent basis, if Crozier can afford to wait for him.