Dennis (The Undertaker) Maruk gets a chance to bury another club record tonight when the Washington Capitals return to Capital Centre after an 18-day absence for a 7:30 date against the St. Louis Blues.

Maruk, a 51-goal scorer with 19 games remaining, has recorded at least one goal in eight straight contests, matching Mike Gartner's 2-year-old standard. With 15 goals over those eight games, Maruk is outproducing even Wayne Gretzky, as any fan can figure out by projecting his hot attack over a full season. It would come to 150.

Tonight begins a five-game home stand, the Capitals' longest of the season. The Blues, in one of so many quirks in the NHL schedule, will be back Wednesday, becoming the first team ever to play here twice on the same home stand. Other visitors include Hartford Saturday afternoon, Edmonton Sunday night and Calgary March 5.

St. Louis thumped the Capitals, 7-4, at the Checkerdome on Jan. 9 and has not lost to Washington in the teams' last five meetings. However, the Blues are in a down cycle, going winless in eight straight before tripping torpid Toronto, 3-2, on Tuesday.

"The big thing is not to let them stand in front of our net," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "That was the way they beat us in St. Louis, with several tip-in goals."

Murray thinks the Capitals must win four of five on the home stand to retain a realistic chance of a playoff berth. Washington trails Pittsburgh by 11 points, but the Capitals have 13 of their 19 games at home, the Penguins only eight of 18.

The team was in high spirits heading home from Winnipeg Sunday night after beating the Jets, 6-3. But the celebratory atmosphere was shattered when the pilot suddenly announced, "Some of you were wondering about the Pittsburgh hockey score. They beat the New York Islanders tonight, 4-3."

"It certainly spoiled my evening," Murray said. "That was one game I had projected them to lose. The Islanders win 15 in a row and they have to lose to Pittsburgh. Well, nobody ever said it was going to be easy.

"We have to play awfully well at home and we can't play any giveaways. We've got Montreal, the Islanders and Edmonton, so we can't reasonably expect to win all 13 games, but we'd better win 11 to have a shot. And we've got to win at least one road game--the one at Pittsburgh."

The Capitals took eight defensemen and 10 forwards on the road trip, but that imbalance is unlikely to continue. At least one forward is expected to be recalled from Hershey today, with Lou Franceschetti and Todd Bidner the leading candidates. A defenseman could be heading in the other direction, with Timo Blomqvist and Paul MacKinnon hoping their phones don't ring.

Philadelphia right wing Reg Leach, 31, has asked the Flyers to trade him and Washington General Manager Roger Crozier said he would not be unwilling to pick up the career 363-goal scorer at a bargain-basement price. There is no question of dealing away either a proven player or a high draft choice.

"We have to be interested . . . in anybody who is a proven goal scorer in the National League," Crozier said.

Goaltender Mike Palmateer, who practiced with the team yesterday, does not seem likely to contribute down the stretch and he may be asked to go to Hershey to play himself into shape.