When asked what he anticipated for his team against the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight (WTOP-1500, 8:05), Washington Capitals General Manager David Poile pondered a moment and said, "Mike Palmateer."

Actually, the former Capital goalie, who was dealt to the Leafs just before the start of training camp, will not be in the nets -- probably not even in the building -- to greet his old teammates. After the Leafs' loss to St. Louis last week, Palmateer asked Toronto management to let him play a few games in the minors so he could get some ice time.

"I need to play in a game for timing, the feel and reading of play," he said then. Palmateer's staying with Toronto hinged upon his training-camp performance and the condition of his injured right knee. He played only two 30-minute spots during exhibition games.

Palmateer played Sunday for the Leafs' AHL club, the St. Catherines Saints, and shut out the Baltimore Skipjacks. He will play at least one more game before returning to Toronto's lineup, probably late this week.

"I've heard (Michel) Larocque is playing well," Capitals Coach Bryan Murray said. "We've got a fair amount of material to study on the Leafs." Which is to say Murray is not taking Toronto lightly despite its winless record: the loss to St. Louis and ties with Chicago and New Jersey.

"We're going to change our style of forechecking to be a bit more aggressive (than in the weekend's Phildelphia games)," he said. Murray was concerned about communication between defensive partners and linemates, and devoted part of practice Monday and Tuesday to the problem.

"It takes game-like conditions to really get it working," he said. "It just takes some time; people getting in the right places and reacting."

The Capitals' lines have been in flux, with Murray still experimenting a bit to find the proper combinations. In Sunday's game, Dennis Maruk played with Ken Houston and Bobby Carpenter, then with Alan Haworth and Houston.

"That line (with Carpenter) is one that did not work out," Murray said. "And the Gustafsson-Carpenter-Gartner line goes back together."

Last week, Murray put Milan Novy between Gartner and Carpenter, where the Czech center's passing game appeared to be sharpest.

"We've been moving people around, and are still trying to get the best combinations we can," Murray said. "Maybe one or two minor changes yet, but certainly nothing major."

Goalie Dave Parro, injured during training camp, is expected to play for the first time this season. Pat Riggin was in the nets for both Philadelphia games and the opener in New York last Wednesday.

"The (left) shoulder feels a lot better now," Parro said. He skated with the club the latter part of last week, and Murray conceded that he could have gone with Parro in Sunday's game.

Defenseman Scott Stevens, who had the flu, is well enough to play tonight . . . Dennis Maruk and Bengt Gustafsson are fighting a touch of virus . . . Chris Valentine was sent to Hershey and the Capitals recalled Gaetan Duchesne.