Bryan Murray's home here simulates his summer cottage in a kind of Canadian Lake Wobegon. Near Annapolis, the Washington Capitals' coach owns a home in the woods. It has a large deck out back and the quiet of night. He lives with his wife, Geri, and two daughters. A black Labrador retriever named Lucy and three cats have free rein. If Murray thinks hard enough, he can imagine himself back on his little lake 15 miles outside his native Shawville, Quebec, and about 50 miles northwest of Ottawa.

But Murray's thoughts are solely on the present: recharging the Capitals' attack, finding a left wing, keeping pace in the Patrick Division, worrying about tonight's game in Uniondale, N.Y., against the Islanders.

Oh, for a high-scoring left wing.

"I think we're better at left wing than we have been," Murray would soon be saying. "But we don't have one guy there who is a Mike Gartner-type or is a David Christian-type, who is there for his offensive skills. Sometimes you're going to come up short because of that, so having one guy at least on the left side who can score on a consistent basis would be a big asset."

A trade is possible.

"But there's not many teams that are going to give up on a guy who can score. A guy who can score is hard to get. But anything's possible."

It's almost always been this way with the Capitals -- solid defense, a need for more scoring.

If only Murray had every piece to the puzzle, every brick of the load . . .

In Murray's living room hangs a painting of Shawville's narrow main street as it looked a few years ago. There's the one stoplight and the town hall with a flag on top and old signs along the block: Dodge, Shell, Coca-Cola. In the foreground, behind a telephone pole, is a hotel, the Pontiac House. Murray owned it with one of his sisters -- he has four brothers and five sisters. The hotel burned down during his second year as Capitals' coach. A new building there has a bar which Murray partly owns.

Murray might have been Shawville's foremost businessman. When he went west to Regina, Saskatchewan, in 1979 to coach in the Western Hockey League he owned not only the hotel but also a sporting goods store with one brother and an auto parts business with another. In that territory, little is more important than having hockey equipment and a car that works. A hotel in a town of 2,000 wasn't a bad investment either -- Shawville has the region's major hockey arena and people come from all around.

But Murray liked teaching, and he loved hockey. He put the two together.

As the Capitals' coach since Nov. 11, 1981, Murray has the longest tenure of any National Hockey League coach with one team except for Edmonton's Glen Sather. And he is third among active NHL coaches in winning percentage. But it might not have come to pass had he not been recommended for the Regina job by, among others, Gary Green, ironically the man Murray replaced as Capitals' coach. Murray knew he wanted to coach, and left his sister and wife behind to run the hotel. It was his big break.

He put on water, for coffee, let out a cat and let in the big Lab.

Murray had grown up third oldest of the 10 children. Until he was 7, the family lived on a small farm outside Shawville. Then they moved to town. Most of his life, Murray's father worked in Ottawa for the gas company. Murray played hockey and basketball, and competed in track and field, at Shawville High. After that, he played junior hockey one season -- and decided to become a physical education teacher. A winger, Murray said, "Realistically, I knew I probably wasn't going too far as a player."

He enrolled at the Macdonald College campus of McGill University, about 20 miles west of Montreal, where he played hockey and football. After graduation, he returned to Shawville High to teach and coach, and played Senior Class A amateur hockey for the Shawville Pontiacs. He played two years, and the second year he coached the team. It was his start. Although he was younger than most of his players, friends he had grown up with, "they responded, they respected me." He could lead.

Then, as now, he spoke with what he calls a lisp. "I was born with it. I guess I was very selfconscious about it for many years. Very quiet maybe because of it for many years." In college a teacher told him, " 'You've got to really work at that, you're going to have a tough time getting kids to listen.' I certainly have survived it."

He returned to Macdonald College as hockey coach and athletic director, but "boredom" got him out of there. "I just couldn't sit still on the campus." It was back to Shawville, as PE director at a new regional high school. He was in business full-time when his first major Junior A job at Regina came through. He took a last place team to the Western Hockey League title in one season. It was glorious, and grim.

Murray installed "a system." Like now, "the biggest thing I believed in was the work ethic. And the ability to check. You have to play a disciplined system, work hard at the game. At that time, I was able to play a more offensive style as well in that we had a few more people who had the ability to score, and we took advantage of that."

He just wishes the Capitals of today had more firepower. Regina "had a great power play -- that's what's frustrating for me now."

But when you travel in the WHL, it's a distance, and the snow is deep. Wind blowing 50 mph. Snow piling up on the roads. One trip lasted 23 1/2 hours.

He sat at his kitchen counter, sipping coffee.

Murray recalled, "I knew after one year I was not going back to coach in that league." It might have been back to the hotel -- but the Capitals called and the next season he became coach of their Hershey farm team. In 1980-81, he duplicated his Regina success, leading Hershey to its best season ever. He did it with "direction, a system {of work}, discipline {to carry it out}."

He blew into Washington on the gust of two whirlwind seasons. Game Day

Murray drove his white Volvo down a two-lane road, headed for Capital Centre and a game-day morning skate. The Capitals would be playing Quebec that night. "They play an offensive style. Pretty good goaltending. So it should be a game in which four or five goals will be required to win. Which is more than we've been scoring."

Murray seemed confident his team would play well. He had shuffled his lines for more scoring punch. And "because of Quebec's style we'll probably get a few more chances than we have some nights."

The pressure is on Murray to produce, and he in turn keeps the pressure on his players. Unabashedly, the Capitals in recent years have made the Stanley Cup their annual goal, and good seasons always have ended in disappointment.

"When I came here," said Murray, "the pressure was to make the playoffs. . . . Now we're probably not satisfied if we don't finish the regular schedule in the top five or thereabouts. . . . We think we have a realistic chance of being a team that can get to the final."

Last season was as pressurized as any -- struggling all season, but finishing strong, getting the lead in the playoffs over the Islanders "and then not being able to finish them off . . . We just didn't have, it seemed, enough up front to win the big game."

But it wasn't pressure Murray was feeling at the time of his recent outburst against a referee and a linesman in Buffalo. He just thought things weren't fair. There were only seconds left in the period when Gartner had a scoring chance only to apparently be high-sticked. No penalty. Almost immediately, Lou Franceschetti was called for high-sticking. Murray argued. He got penalized.

Murray argued with the ref on the way to the dressing room. Just before the door to the officials' room was closed, Murray said, the linesman called him a name. Murray didn't need a long memory before confronting him at the end of the intermission, in the hallway. "He gave me a push. I hit his hand. I said, 'Keep your hands off me.' And then we had words."

Murray received a three-game suspension, as did the linesman. Murray's brother and assistant, Terry, coached. Murray admits it was difficult, sitting up there in the stands for three games.

He turned into Capital Centre's parking lot. The Capitals have done well enough on home ice, but Murray wishes they could play better. Make the place, like a few others around the league, feared by opponents. "We're trying to emphasize our building more this year. But this building hasn't had the impact it could have. When you're at home you have to put a lot of pressure on the opposition team. You want the other team to know when it comes back, Boy, this is a tough building to play in."Capital Reflections

It was 10:30 a.m. when Murray slid onto the ice. Wingers zipped past him, standing near the blue line, on their way to the net. He huddled with some about the power play and how Quebec defenses it. Murray said later, "I haven't had all the success here, in Washington, that I'd like to have had in the last few years {with the power play}."

Capitals General Manager David Poile watched. Contrary to published reports, Poile said Murray's contract was not up after this season. But he wouldn't say when it was up. And, "no," Murray had not been in any danger of losing his job at the end of last season. And, "no," Murray did not have to win the Stanley Cup this season to be back.

Driving away from practice, Murray agreed -- he didn't think the Capitals would have to win the Cup to ensure his job but "I think we have to have some success throughout this year and in the playoffs. I think we have to win a series or two, very definitely, to feel we have achieved very much."

Walking to lunch, a place on Route 301, he said, "I certainly feel there's been a lot of loyalty shown to me, very fair treatment," with the Capitals. "I couldn't ask for more from any place. And I know if I ever did go to another place it would not be better."

Over hot roast beef, Murray recalled some downs, some ups: The departed Bobby Carpenter. "Physically, he's not as willing to be involved. It was the work ethic. Having the success and not handling it or what, I'm not sure, but he didn't work as hard. . . . He wouldn't take the blame for anything. He had a chance to be what we term a franchise player." Departed goalie Al Jensen, now in the minors. Murray was criticized two years ago for staying with Pete Peeters and not switching to Jensen during the playoff series with the Rangers. "Peeters was not the reason we didn't win. I looked at the goals over and over -- point-blank shot, tip-in. And Al Jensen, the reason we traded him, he doesn't handle pressure. He couldn't play in tight spots. I never said that to anybody, but that was a fact. . . . I know how nervous he was. He'd change skates between periods. Just hyper as could be. So I was nervous with him." Rod Langway. "Rod Langway can play as long as he wants to play because of his style and his work ethic. He can be solid defensively for a number of years." He's Murray's model athlete -- "rides the bike," works year-round.

A woman at the next table said to Murray, "The Capitals are ruining my marriage."

"Really," said Murray.

"My husband turns on the games just when I'm ready to watch TV." Another 'Downer'

Murray was right -- it would have taken five goals to win. Final: 4-1, Quebec. What a "downer," as Murray calls each setback. On the drive home after a defeat, he thinks: Did he handle the matchups properly? Is a lineup change needed? He always tries to complete his thoughts before he gets to the end of the long driveway. But that night, his wife was home in Canada visiting her parents, and he could turn this game over and over, a defeat in the team's own building. Nothing about this job was easy.