When Peter Zezel charged around the rink as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, he was compared to a bowling ball for the manner in which he used his low center of gravity to knock the legs from underneath opposing skaters.

Now Zezel is back in the Patrick Division, as a member of the Washington Capitals. Though he is unlikely to match Geoff Courtnall's goal-scoring figures, he no doubt will contribute a unique style to the physical brand of hockey preferred by Coach Terry Murray.

Accompanying Zezel from the St. Louis Blues in yesterday's trade for Courtnall was defenseman Mike Lalor, a stay-at-home type who seems a more likely replacement for Neil Sheehy than for departed Scott Stevens.

In five NHL seasons, Lalor has accumulated 65 points. Stevens rolled up 72 in 1987-88 and 68 the next year before slipping to 40 last season in 56 games.

General Manager David Poile said he was satisfied that he made the best of a deal forced on him by Courtnall's desire to escape the ramifications of an incident involving four Capitals in the alleged rape of a 17-year-old female after a Georgetown party meant to honor the Capitals' most successful season.

"Geoff Courtnall requested a trade and the Washington Capitals have made a good one," Poile said. "Our fans should remember Peter Zezel. As a Philadelphia Flyer for four and a half years, he was always a thorn in our side. He's an agitator type of player and he can be used in many situations. He should score more total points than Geoff Courtnall and in our minds he's one of the best faceoff people in the NHL."

The departure of Scott Stevens leaves "a big hole on defense. The first move in that direction is to get Mike Lalor. He is what I would like to says is a Capitals' type of foundation player. He goes about his job unspectacularly but he gets the job done."

Courtnall was the Capitals' No. 2 scorer with 74 points, and his 35 goals represented more than half the total produced by the team's left wings. There was much talk yesterday about the potential of young Steve Maltais, but it seems that Poile's next move will be to obtain a goal scorer on the left side.

If Poile wants to dangle some of his upcoming draft picks as trade bait, he might be able to secure a left wing and possibly a veteran defenseman. There are NHL executives who look at the Capitals' problems and see last place and a resultant early draft choice as a strong possibility.

Zezel always has been enthusiastic on the ice and he was pumped up about the trade when he picked up the telephone in Yugoslavia, where he is visiting relatives.

"I'm happy that Washington wanted me," he said. "I don't mind going there at all. I like it there. I had a lot of respect for the Washington organization when I played for Philly."

Zezel said he was not surprised to learn that he would be going to his third team in less than two years.

"I've heard rumors about different places and of the ones I'd heard mentioned, I'm glad it turned out to be Washington," Zezel said. "I tied my career high for points {72} last year and I broke my record for assists {47}. If St. Louis needed somebody else, that's fine.

"It was kind of funny to hear it the way I did though. I'm visiting relatives here in a little town in Yugoslavia and we were down in a field playing soccer and swimming in the river. Dad came and got me and gave me the news."

Zezel, who once played professional soccer with the Toronto Blizzard and appeared in the film "Youngblood," was a heartthrob in Philadelphia. There was considerable angry fan reaction when he was dealt to St. Louis for Mike Bullard in November 1988, and some people there insist that was the beginning of the Flyers' tumble that culminated in a last-place finish last spring.

"Peter Zezel is a creative, hard-nosed, intense player and I'm glad to have him," said Murray.

If the Capitals were glad to get Zezel, the Blues were reluctant to give him up. However, by obtaining Courtnall on the left side, they are able to move star rookie Rod Brind'Amour from left wing to his normal position at center. That made Zezel expendable.

"I hate to lose a player of the dimension of Zezel," St. Louis General Manager Ron Caron said by phone from a fishing camp near Val d'Or, Quebec. "He's a superb team player and he plays in all three zones."

Although Lalor fell from plus-14 two years ago to minus-6 last season, Caron had nothing bad to say about him.

"That was misleading," Caron said. "A lot of the time, he was out there with the checking line against the top scorers. His plus-minus suffered, but he did the job. He just became expendable with Stevens here."

Lalor, unavailable for comment because he reportedly was playing in a charity golf tournament in Quebec, earned a Stanley Cup ring while playing for Montreal in 1986.