Through the years, the inconsistencies of the Washington Capitals have driven a series of coaches to distraction and, within a short time thereafter, to other employment.

Bryan Murray, No. 8 in the succession, has been more successful than any of the others. Should the Capitals defeat the Boston Bruins tonight at Capital Centre, it would elevate Murray to a .500 record, since he currently stands at 36-37-21.

Even Murray, with his level-headed approach and ability to maintain order on the brink of chaos, admits to being baffled by some of his players' antics. Friday night's 4-4 tie with the New York Rangers illustrated one unfathomable tendency, the inability to skate with intensity from the opening faceoff.

The Capitals managed only four shots in the first period and 13 through the first 40 minutes, and trailed, 3-1. Then, in the final period, they exerted irresistible offensive pressure, and goals by Mike Gartner and Brian Engblom in the last four minutes salvaged the point.

The tie extended the Capitals' unbeaten streak to eight games, a club record. It also exemplified the first-period stagnation. Outscored, 36-24, in the first period over the 28-game season, Washington has collected only four first-period goals during the streak to the opposition's eight.

"Every first period we seem to be like that," Murray said. "We've tried having a longer warmup, we've tried more skating in warmups, but nothing seems to work. I think we're feeling the other team out.

"Mike Gartner and Bobby Carpenter started skating in the third period last night and, when they do, you see what they can accomplish. But for two periods, they and a lot of other guys were just standing around. We didn't achieve anything for two periods.

"We should beat the Rangers at home if we want to finish ahead of them. But when you get a point after being two goals down with four minutes to play, you have to be happy. It gives us a big psychological lift and it has to knock them down a bit. I have no complaint, other than the way we played for two periods."

Certainly, Murray had fewer complaints than his opposite number, Ranger Coach Herb Brooks, who watched his team forecheck the Capitals with outstanding success for two periods, then fold under Washington pressure in the third. Brooks called a timeout with 13 minutes left in the game to attempt to reverse the trend. Obviously, he did not succeed.

"I called a timeout to wake them up," Brooks said. "All of a sudden, they sit on it, go to sleep. Give Washington credit; they didn't throw in the towel when they were two goals behind. But any team on the road with a two-goal lead ought to be able to smell the victory and keep it going.

"In the third period, the guys we had were missing persons out there. We're awful close to the FBI here. Maybe we should have called them and tried to find some guys. Maybe if we do find them, we'll let them sit in the stands."

If the Capitals have been unable to show up ready to work for 7:30 or 8 o'clock starts, tonight's 7 p.m. faceoff presents an even more critical problem. So do the Bruins, who historically have been one of the Capitals' toughest opponents, along with Buffalo, Quebec and Montreal.

In 35 meetings, Washington has managed only two victories and seven ties, for 11 of a possible 70 points. At Capital Centre, the record is 1-11-5, with Boston scoring 80 goals to the Capitals' 45.