Trying to balance their potent offense with some passable defense, the Washington Capitals obtained defenseman Doug Hicks from Edmonton a few minutes before yesterday's noon trading deadline.

It was actually close to 2 p.m. (noon Edmonton time) when General Manager Roger Crozier, foiled in several other ventures, stepped out of his office and announced that he had dealt winger Todd Bidner to the Oilers in exchange for Hicks.

Not long after, Hicks packed his bags at the Oilers' resort motel outside Los Angeles and flew here to join his new team for tonight's crucial 7:30 Capital Centre contest against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Washington trails Pittsburgh by eight points in the battle for a playoff berth and a defeat tonight would virtually eliminate chance of first-ever Stanley Cup play for the Capitals.

Hicks, 26, was a first-round pick of the Minnesota North Stars in 1974 and later played for Chicago before moving to Edmonton in the expansion draft that followed the 1979 merger.

In 543 NHL games, Hicks has collected 37 goals and 130 assists and served 434 penalty minutes. He suffered a fractured wrist early last season and saw limited duty thereafter. This season he has appeared in 49 games, mostly as a spot defenseman. He dressed for only one of the three games against Washington.

Bidner, who has been in Hershey since Feb. 27, had two goals and one assist in 12 games with the Capitals. He was idle 12 weeks after suffering a broken leg Nov. 4.

"I want to rebuild the whole defense in time and this is just a small step in that direction, but at least it's a step," Crozier said. "I've been trying to do this for quite awhile. We've been searching for a left-handed defenseman and Hicks will give us both experience in the stretch drive and a little toughness in front of the net and in the corners."

Bidner, 20, was the second young forward dealt away in the last two months to try to plug the defensive leaks. Tim Tookey, 21, went to Quebec Feb. 1 for Lee Norwood, another left-handed shooting defenseman. At one time, when Rick Green was hurt, all six defensemen shot from the right side.

To help Hershey, which is in a playoff battle itself, the Capitals sent out winger Lou Franceschetti. It is primarily a technical move to make him eligible for the American League playoffs, should Washington fall short in its quest, and Crozier said he would use one of his two postdeadline moves to call Franceschetti back, probably as early as Sunday.

Franceschetti was not scheduled to dress tonight anyway, since Washington will move Randy Holt up to a wing and also utilize tough Torrie Robertson against a Pittsburgh team that ranks second only to Philadelphia in penalties, with 1,987 minutes.

The Penguins have the NHL's top two bad men in defensemen Paul Baxter, 341 minutes, and Pat Price, 304. Their leading scorer is Rick Kehoe, the Lady Byng winner of 1981, with 29 goals and 41 assists.