Three days after Coach Bryan Murray said he was dissatisfied with the play of Darren Veitch and Peter Andersson, the Washington Capitals sent the two defensemen packing.

Veitch, a six-year Capital, was traded to the Detroit Red Wings yesterday for veteran defensemen John Barrett and Greg Smith. Andersson, a three-year man, was dispatched to the Quebec Nordiques for a third-round pick in the June entry draft.

The flurry of activity on the eve of the National Hockey League trading deadline was a bit surprising, since the Capitals have won seven in a row and are challenging Philadelphia for first place. There had been some suspicion, however, that Washington needed more toughness to compete with the Flyers in a playoff series, and the newcomers figure to provide it.

"The easiest thing is to do nothing, especially when your team is going well," said General Manager David Poile. "I thought we needed a little more of an upgrade on our defense.

"We were looking for a little more experience, which both give us, especially Greg Smith, and a little more aggressiveness, which both give us, especially John Barrett. The exchange should make us better for both the Patrick Division and the playoffs."

When it was suggested Poile had acquired one-third of the worst defense in the NHL, he replied, "It was hard for anybody to shine in their situation. The problems were team-related rather than individual. I liked what I saw of them as individuals."

Smith, 30, and Barrett, 27, sounded like two prisoners pardoned from a life sentence. Smith was in his fifth season with the Red Wings, Barrett his sixth.

"I'm thrilled to death about playing for a winning team like Washington after the year we're going through," said Smith, 6 feet and 195 pounds.

"I wasn't expecting it at all. There have been so many trade rumors around here, but my name was never mentioned. I guess I should know from experience that that's when you go."

Smith played with California, Cleveland and Minnesota before he was traded to Detroit with Don Murdoch in a 1981 deal that enabled the North Stars to pick Brian Bellows the following spring.

"It's like a new life for me," said Barrett, 6 feet and 208 pounds with a reputation as a hard hitter. "I do have a kind of feeling that I've left a job undone, being here for six years and finishing it in such a frustrating situation."

One of the few bright spots all year for the Red Wings was their 7-0 drubbing of the Capitals Jan. 28. "We kept looking down at our sweaters that night, to see if somebody had switched them," Barrett joked.

The Red Wings, 14-47-6, also sent defenseman Reed Larson to Boston yesterday, for defenseman Mike O'Connell. General Manager Jimmy Devellano and Coach Brad Park reportedly were behind locked doors all afternoon, weighing other possible moves.

Although Veitch had the fourth-best rating on the Capitals, plus-21, Murray never was satisfied with his play. Veitch had played for Murray at Regina six years ago and seemed destined for greatness. He was the fifth pick in the first round of the 1980 draft, chosen by Washington just before Edmonton selected Paul Coffey. But repeated injuries restricted Veitch's mobility and he became reluctant to take risks. After Murray's pointed criticism Friday, however, Veitch responded with two excellent games against the New York Islanders.

Veitch had considerably less reason to celebrate than Barrett and Smith, but after an extended lunch with his old teammates, he expressed mixed emotions.

"I'm a little bit mad, because I'm going from a first-place team to a last-place team and I won't be in the playoffs," Veitch said. "But I'm a little bit looking forward to Detroit, because I'm going to a team where I figure to be a major role player and I should get a lot of ice time. Maybe I can help the Red Wings along the line and get back to where I was in junior . . .

"I changed my game here, because I didn't want to make mistakes. I worked on my defensive game and I think I did a pretty good job."

"No question," Murray said, "he tried to upgrade his performance. He's done that in the past, but he's not consistently there. We need strong people to play in this division and we were able to get two . . . It gives us more depth . . . in case anything should happen to our front four guys. The two-for-one is very worthwhile."

Quebec General Manager Maurice Filion said, "Peter Andersson was the third man on the left side in Washington behind Rod Langway and Scott Stevens . . . but maybe if he's given a chance here, he can help . . . "

"Andersson said, "Hopefully, I will get more ice time in Quebec . . . " Murray had been nagging Andersson all season to be more involved in the play and he said, "Lately, he was not involved at all."

In another move, the Capitals returned left wing Daryl Evans, one assist in six games, to Binghamton. Whalers 5, Canadiens 2

Weekend acquisition John Anderson scored Hartford's first goal and assisted on three as the Whalers won for the first time at Montreal's Forum.