Hockey isn't what it used to be, for a variety of reasons, some of which cannot be corrected.

Television timeouts have taken away the continuous action that often kept the crowd in an uproar from start to finish. Obviously, the money paid by the TV folks is substantial enough so that the delays are with us to stay.

Another detriment has been the dive taken by a player hoping to induce the referee to call a penalty. Hardliners place the blame on the influx of Europeans, because blatant dives were first seen in European soccer.

In Gordie Howe's day, or at least the first few thousand of his NHL days, it was a matter of pride for a player to try to stay on his skates. But Howe acknowledges that the persistent hooking in today's game has changed the thinking of the players.

"How many points do you get for a dive -- one, two, three or four?" Howe asked facetiously.

Then he continued, "We had our divers, too, but you wanted to stay up and never go down if you could help it.

"The referees know who the divers are. But a lot of it is the hooking. There's so much of it. We'd hook once and let go. Now they don't let go. If you've got nowhere to go and you're by yourself, you might as well go down." Pollin a Big Fan

Abe Pollin, known primarily as a basketball man, has derived more pleasure from his Capitals than one might expect.

"I like hockey just as much as basketball now," Pollin said. "I think hockey is a terrific, exciting sport."

Pollin, who chose Bryan Murray over Don Cherry as coach because of "a gut feeling" more than six years ago, says he has seen no reason to think he made a mistake.

"I get a lot of calls and letters telling me to get rid of my coach or my general manager," Pollin said. "I don't happen to agree with them. The fans don't make the decisions. I make the decisions."

Few of the Capitals fans would disagree with Pollin when he said of the hockey fans at Madison Square Garden, "They're like animals." Pollin needed security guards during the 1986 playoffs, when New York fans bombarded him with trash.

The Capitals, financial losers their first 11 seasons, turned a profit the past two years, according to Pollin. With home attendance averaging a record 15,484, they figure to make it three straight years in black ink. Kerr Back on Ice

Tim Kerr of the Philadelphia Flyers skated Monday for the first time in 10 months. If his ailing shoulder continues to progress on schedule, he will return to action March 10, when Washington visits the Spectrum . . . If the New York Islanders and/or New Jersey Devils do not qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, they know where the blame lies. The Islanders lost all three regular season games to woeful Toronto. The Devils lost all three to equally inept Vancouver . . . With captain Dave Taylor wearing No. 18, Craig Laughlin chose No. 81 for his debut with the Los Angeles Kings. It brought mixed results. He scored a goal against Pittsburgh, but was minus two in a 7-5 loss . . . Bill Torrey, the Islanders' general manager, had this comment on the close race in the Patrick Division: "Isn't this what everyone wanted? It's great for everybody except the managers. We just add gray hairs."