The Washington Capitals have lost two straight games only once this season. The second defeat was administered by the NHL's top club, Edmonton.

The Capitals will be trying to avoid a similar slide tonight, coming off Tuesday's 4-3 loss in Detroit. The odds are heavily on their side, since the Capital Centre visitors are the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Although the Maple Leafs' league-worst 11-32-6 mark is an embarrassment to longtime Toronto fans, there have been a few signs of life lately, particularly away from home town ridicule. With a 6-5 success in Pittsburgh Wednesday, the Leafs are 4-1-1 in their last six road games.

That is a considerable turnabout from recent performances on home ice, where the Maple Leafs have dropped six of their last seven. Booing fans, many of whom wear bags over their heads, have made life miserable for the players.

Right wing Rick Vaive, a 50-goal scorer the last three seasons who has only 22 this time around, finally told off the home town folks a couple of weeks ago, on a visit to Vancouver.

"It's a shame when you work your butt off and there's some bums up in the stands booing you," Vaive said. "We were glad to get out of Toronto. It would be better if we could play all of our games on the road."

Washington Coach Bryan Murray can understand the Leafs' situation. "There have been times the last couple of years when we've played better on the road," Murray said. "Kids especially feel the pressure at home. They want to satisfy the fans, they try to do too much individually and everything breaks down."

Washington defenseman Dave Shand, a 1980-83 Maple Leaf, scouted his old team last week and gave his current mates an idea of what they can expect tonight -- close checking reminiscent of the Leafs' last Stanley Cup winner in 1967.

"It's '60s hockey, real defensive," Shand said. "They send one guy in and wait for a breakdown -- and it's working. They're not in shootouts anymore. They had been giving up 45 to 50 shots; now it's down to 25. They're not getting many themselves, but they're in every game."

Murray expects the Capitals to rebound with a solid effort, following the downer in Detroit.

"We all understand what happened the other night and why," Murray said. "Watching the tape, we saw all the little things we did wrong that added up to a loss. We'll be motivated and we'll bounce back."

Bob Mason will be in net, and could play his third straight Sunday against Winnipeg. Pat Riggin missed yesterday's Capital Centre practice, visiting a doctor for treatment of a sore throat. The third goalie, Al Jensen, returned to the ice for the first time since injuring a knee at St. Louis Jan. 9.

"It's a little weak and it's hard to tell the first time, but it felt pretty good," Jensen said. "I just hope it doesn't stiffen up. I don't want to say too many good things about it. You run out of things after a while."

Murray indicated that he would team Peter Andersson on defense with Rod Langway at least part of the time tonight, while red-hot Mike McEwen partners Murphy.

"We have to get Peter going and playing with Rod ought to be beneficial," Murray said.