VANCOUVER, OCT. 30 -- John Purves made his NHL debut in Calgary Saturday and was to play his second game tonight as the Washington Capitals met the Vancouver Canucks at the Pacific Coliseum. That first game was disappointing for Purves because of the score (a 9-4 loss), but it was also enlightening.

"It's definitely faster," than the American Hockey League, said Purves, who was one of the leading scorers for Baltimore when he was called up Oct. 23. "It's a given that it would be quicker skating-wise, but it is also two steps quicker in terms of reaction time. You can't stand still. You've got to be moving all the time and anticipating the play."

Coach Terry Murray periodically has brought up the hot player from the Skipjacks. Sometimes it is to create competition among the Capitals, sometimes it is to create inspiration for the Skipjacks. Purves had 29 goals and 35 assists last season in Baltimore. Scoring is how he is likely to contribute if he is going to, although Murray said Purves is improving defensively. Murray was hoping he would be stronger tonight than he was in his initial game.

"He was a little tentative, sort of caught in between," Murray said, although he could have been referring to several players in the Calgary loss.

"He was reacting to the situation rather than going and doing it. In the neutral zone and in forechecking, he was a bit flat-footed and waiting."

Purves is hoping to do well enough to stick with the Capitals. Besides the thrill and better pay of the NHL, on Sunday the Skipjacks begin a grueling 10-game, 20-day road trip.

"There's a lot of pluses about being here," Purves said with a laugh.May May Return

Murray said he thought Alan May probably would be able to play this weekend, when the Capitals face Los Angeles at home and the Islanders on the road. May bruised a knuckle -- and displaced the tendon on top of it -- during a fight with New Jersey's Al Stewart Oct. 20. . . .

Vancouver Coach Bob McCammon -- formerly of the Philadelphia Flyers and their then-Maine farm team -- coached Murray as a player. "He was the same as he is as a coach," McCammon said. "He was dedicated and made very few mistakes. He had a good couple years in Philadelphia.

"The only good year Behn Wilson had in Philadelphia was when Terry was his partner. He was a steady guy and a classy guy." . . .

This trip was something of a homecoming for Capitals General Manager David Poile and defenseman Bob Rouse. Poile's father, Norman "Bud" Poile, used to be the general manager here and the family still resides in Vancouver. Rouse grew up in nearby Surrey. A new father, Rouse brought a videotape of son Torrey to show the folks.