For the 12th time in their eight year history, the Washington Capitals are burdened with a double-figure winless streak. The current slide reached 10 last night when Mark Pavelich and Steve Vickers scored in the last six minutes to lift the New York Rangers to a 5-4 victory at Capital Centre.

Goals by Lou Franceschetti and Torrie Robertson early in the period brought Washington a 4-3 advantage, and there was promise that for the first time this season, the Capitals might win after trailing at the second intermission.

But Pavelich caromed a puck off goalie Al Jensen's pad into the net from an impossible angle with 5:28 left and then Vickers, alone in front, converted Pat Hickey's pass from the right wing corner with 3:07 on the clock.

The Capitals pulled Jensen for a sixth skater with 1:27 left and gained an added advantage when Ranger Ron Greschner was penalized for cross-checking with 32 seconds remaining. However, Dennis Maruk shot wide on the only scoring opportunity thereafter.

Washington, with 31 games to play, fell 19 points behind the Rangers and remained 16 in back of Pittsburgh. Although the Capitals have endured double-figure winless streaks every season, this is only the second year they have suffered more than one. In 1974-75, when they finished 8-67-5, it happened four times. Early this season, they went 14 games without a victory.

"I know we've gone 10 games without a win, but our record for the month is 2-5-5, and that's a little positive," said Coach Bryan Murray. "I know it's not going to catch the Rangers, though. . .

"Realistically, we're behind the eight ball. We have to get the kids performing as well as possible, and we saw some of that tonight. I thought Glen Currie, Fodd Bidner and Lou Franceschetti played well as a line. Now that Todd is back, I think he'll be a real bonus.

Vickers, 30, was a real bonus for the Rangers. He was exiled to Springfield at season's start and, even when injuries prompted his recall, he was scratched from the line-up almost as often as he played. When Vickers escaped Washington defenseman Jim McTaggart to produce the winning goal from his favorite spot near the left post, he was recording only his fourth in 15 games.

"The Capitals have too many young defensemen," Vickers said. "They don't know where I stand. . . I feel like I've played against Washington 10 times this year. When I was in Springfield, all these kids were in Hershey."

Barry Beck and Eddie Johnstone gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead with goals 42 seconds apart in the first period, as most of the Capitals joined the crowd of 9,004 in watching the game.

Bobby Gould and Darren Veitch lifted Washington into a 2-2 tie by scoring a pair within 28 seconds early in the second period. But Johnstone beat Jensen on a break-away for his second goal of the game and sixth this season against Washington.

Franceschetti scored off a pass by Mike Gartner to tie it at 3:02 of the third period, shooting just as he was flattened by Ranger Dave Maloney. It was Franceschetti's second NHL goal, both against the Rangers.

Robertson's deflection of a shot by Bobby Carpenter came at 5:16, three seconds before the conclusion of a penalty to New York's Mikko Leinonen, and it marked only the fifth power play success for the Capitals in their last 46 attempts.

Things started to come apart for Washington thereafter. Randy Holt was penalized for roughing about the same time the rivets fell out of Paul MacKinnon's skate and, with Rick Green's shoulder still too tender for him to dress, the Capitals' defense was in deep trouble. The Rangers swarmed around the Washington net and the pressure finally paid off when Vickers slid the puck behind the cage to Pavelich, who came around the other side and put the tying goal home. Then Vickers turned the recession into complete depression.