The Washington Capitals packed up yesterday for a three-game road trip that will begin tonight in New York, hoping to leave behind the lethargy that led to a 3-2 loss to the Hartford Whalers Saturday night at Capital Centre.

Dimitri Khristich, the newly signed Soviet left wing, was to play a third game last night in Baltimore and join the Capitals in New York today. But it is unlikely that he'll play tonight when the Capitals meet the Rangers at 7:35 at Madison Square Garden.

Capitals officials now seem to be putting a wet blanket on some of the excitement they helped engineer when he arrived last week. He played with the Skipjacks Friday and Saturday, but didn't score. So the Capitals seem in no hurry to insert him into their lineup.

"My expectations on these things are always based on the long term," General Manager David Poile said yesterday after practice at Capital Centre. "There's a lot that has happened in the four days since he's been here: new team, new surroundings, some of the things that were said and a media blitz."

The Capitals introduced Khristich at a news conference during the first intermission of Tuesday's game, televising it in the arena.

"We've scouted him for a number of years and we think he will be a good player, but it's going to take some time," Poile said. "He is not as experienced or as worldly as {Mikhail} Tatarinov {the other Soviet on the Capitals}. With that experience, you get confidence. The plan still is what we said and then we'll see what happens. I don't anticipate him playing in New York but that is {Coach Terry Murray's} decision. He'll be with us. If he plays and does well, then great. If he's not playing, then we'll address that."

Tatarinov, 24, stepped into the lineup Oct. 23 and has become an important member of the squad. Just 21, Khristich arrived this past week after playing the first part of the season with Sokol Kiev. He signed a three-year contract (two, plus an option). Sources say he will earn $120,000 this season, regardless of whether he plays in Baltimore or Washington.

Murray said he didn't envision using Khristich if it meant a fourth game in four nights.

"If there is no urgency to put him in because of an injury {to another player}, I don't think I'd force him into the lineup," Murray said.

As for other lineup situations, Peter Zezel (sprained ankle) will travel with the team. He isn't likely to play tonight, but may later in the week. Meanwhile, defenseman Neil Sheehy, who broke bones in his leg and ankle in the exhibition season, will skate this week with Baltimore while the Capitals are on the road.

This road trip involves three of the best teams in the NHL. After the Rangers, the Capitals will play Wednesday in Chicago and Thursday in St. Louis. They had little zip Saturday night in losing to the Whalers for the second time this season. Hartford forechecked aggressively and scored all three goals off Capitals' errors in their own end.

"We didn't seem to play with the intensity, the fire that you have to have on an every-game basis," Murray said. "We played pretty well in the third period, but 20 minutes out of 60 is not enough against anybody."

Center Michal Pivonka, who missed last week's victory over the Philadelphia Flyers with a sore knee, didn't play part of the third period after falling awkwardly.

"It's a little stiff," he said, when asked if he would play against the Rangers. "I don't know."