If Thursday night's tie with the Hartford Whalers does not quite merit superlatives, at least the Washington Capitals have continued honing their image as a team that works overtime.

The Capitals, who play the New York Rangers at Capital Centre today (5 p.m.), twice had to skate back from a two-goal Hartford lead to get out with a 4-4 tie. Now 17-10-10, Washington has lost only once in its last 17 games.

Bryan Murray did not look displeased by his club's efforts, despite a looser brand of play than the Capitals have displayed all year. "I think, if anything, we've gotten the confidence and good work habits that are a major factor on a team," the coach said. "(Against Hartford) we were missing three forwards (Bengt Gustafsson, Milan Novy and Ken Houston) and we still came up with the point."

Gustafsson and Novy were injured in Tuesday's Pittsburgh game, and Houston had lymph nodes removed from his leg Thursday morning. Murray brought in Chris Valentine from Hershey, a move that quickly paid dividends when Valentine scored the tying goal.

"The fact that we did not give up and came back for the point shows that things are working," Murray said. "The confidence for us came with that unbeaten streak (Washington's 14-game nonlosing string was ended by Philadelphia Sunday). When you're used to winning, or anyway not losing, you become more confident, more aggressive.

"It was a very loose game for us, but overall I can't criticize too much," he said. "We've taken away the 'star' concept of a team, and as a team, check much better. Everybody just plays. I play four lines every night, and we've been getting a goal a night out of that fourth line (Bob Gould, Gaetan Duchesne and Glen Currie)."

In every city the Capitals visit, Murray is asked the same questions about the rejuvenated club. Collared both before and after games by media, Murray gives candid answers about the change, stressing the team concept rather than allowing anyone to suggest full credit for any one man.

He reminds listeners that in addition to The Trade with Montreal, the Capitals acquired other new players. "People criticized us for getting (Ken) Houston (from Calgary)," he said. "But he came to us cheap, and he's a big strong guy who goes out there and plays. Ted Bulley (acquired from Chicago) does not play every game, but he's a help. And (rookie defenseman) Scott Stevens, who's going to win the Calder Trophy."

Murray admits that the four former Montreal players--captain Rod Langway, Brian Engblom, Doug Jarvis and Craig Laughlin--have made a difference, but added, "The changes are all up and down the line, with all of the guys gaining in confidence and showing it in their play.

"I don't know that there is any one trait that I would pick out to describe this team, the way the Canadiens are the Flying Frenchmen, and other clubs have their own special images," he said. "We are a pretty good skating club, a hard-working group.

"In the past, we've had a lot of guys here who are winner types, but who never experienced it," he said. "Now they're getting a chance."