Comments directed at the referee generally are predictable, depending on the allegiance of the critic.

When someone shouted, "Come on, Ronnie, call those holding fouls," at referee Ron Hoggarth during Saturday's Washington-Minnesota game, it was another matter.

This particular critic was Jim Gregory, vice president of hockey operations for the NHL and the man who gives the officials their skating orders.

Gregory said all referees had been directed to "call all three periods the same and to call more restraining fouls, particularly grabbing the stick, in both the offensive and defensive zones."

Hoggarth supported the crackdown, saying, "Guys with skills haven't been able to use them and it's been frustrating. All the penalties can be frustrating, too. But once the guys get used to it, it should work all right."

Predictably, there has been divided reaction to the glut of penalties in early-season games.

Washington Coach Bryan Murray: "I'm all for eliminating restraining fouls, if that's their goal, but the way the games have been going, all you need are two lines and a couple of penalty killers. The fourth line never plays."

Winnipeg General Manager John Ferguson: "All these penalties are ruining the game -- for both sides."

Minnesota General Manager Lou Nanne: "I'm all for eliminating the excessive hooking and holding away from the play."

A Case of Overexposure

Last season's favorite NHL story concerned Perry Turnbull of Winnipeg, who purchased a bargain "VCR" in New York and upon opening the package, discovered a large rock.

An early candidate for this season's award is Steve Thomas of the Chicago Blackhawks, who chose the wall of a Buffalo police station for an improbable place to relieve a full bladder.

When a woman suggested he use the facilities inside, Thomas said he was satisfied with his present arrangement. When the woman persisted, Thomas reportedly replied, "What are you going to do, arrest me?"

That is precisely what the policewoman did, charging Thomas with public lewdness . . .

Dick Patrick, president of the Washington Capitals, was unhappy with Murray's suspension.

"I was disappointed, mostly because of my view of actions taken in the past with other coaches in altercations with referees," Patrick said. "Remember the Al Arbour-Don Koharski situation in the {1985} playoffs? There was no suspension for what Arbour did after the game ended in the second overtime {shoving Koharski} and I felt that needed action.

"I also have some complaints with the way the news release went into everything about Bryan and had nothing about {linesman Ron} Asselstine. There were two people involved and it was not equal treatment."

Asked if he was upset with Murray because of the suspension, Patrick replied, "That hasn't even occurred to me." . . .

If all goes well, Tim Kerr of the Philadelphia Flyers will undergo a sixth operation on his ailing shoulder Friday. A screw placed in the shoulder has caused recurring infection and, if a bone scan shows the shoulder has healed sufficiently, the screw will be removed.

Kerr has lost 18 pounds because of the infection and even if this operation proves more successful, Kerr is not likely to be able to play before March.

Pollin Is No Fox

Abe Pollin, the Capitals' owner, never has been on skates and plans to maintain that status when the Capitals' Old-Timers play a celebrity team, featuring Michael J. Fox, after the Dec. 12 Capital Centre contest against Chicago . . .

Paul Coffey remains at home in Toronto, while his attorneys check out a piece of Alberta real estate Edmonton owner Peter Pocklington has offered as part of a contract renegotiation package. Meanwhile, Pocklington has left on a two-week trip to Australia, saying "if Coffey has waited this long, he can wait another two weeks." . . . Sherry Costello, wife of the Capitals' strength and conditioning coach, gave birth to a son Wednesday. "He won't be a hockey player," insisted husband Frank, a former NCAA high jump champion for Maryland.