There was plenty of tension surrounding the Washington Capitals yesterday, but no trades, and there probably won't be for at least a couple of days.

A six-game winless streak and Coach Terry Murray's thinly veiled suggestion after Wednesday night's anemic loss to Pittsburgh that trades might help solve the team's woes, gave the team, its practice and an afternoon full of meetings an edge that had been missing for two weeks or so.

"Very tense," forward John Druce said.

"Both," goalie Don Beaupre said of the reasons, "both" being the skid and Murray's words. "We were feeling it before. But it just gets worse every day you don't win. If we get the job done {tonight}, we might see a few more smiles."

Tonight at 8, the fifth-place Capitals will meet the Patrick Division-leading New York Rangers at Capital Centre. The Rangers played a part in Washington's slide. In a game full of Rangers breakaways, New York scored four straight goals to beat the Capitals, 5-3, last week at Madison Square Garden.

For most of the past two weeks, the Capitals have lacked intensity and the sharp edge needed by a team with only average talent. Murray tried to solve the first problem Wednesday by suggesting an upgrade via the second. He said General Manager David Poile would be coming to yesterday's practice and there would be evaluations of every player, with the idea being to decide with whom to finish the season.

Murray had a team meeting before the practice. Then he and assistant John Perpich met with each player individually for 10 minutes.

"It was an evaluation, and you were told what you needed to improve on," said one player.

Then there was a meeting with the whole group. Normally, players and coaches are on the way home by 1:30 or 2. Yesterday, it was 5:30.

"I guess we'll see tomorrow" what it all accomplished, Murray said after the final meeting.

"I don't know what effect it has," Murray said earlier when asked if suggestions of trades do as much as the trades themselves. "It can have an effect when you talk about not being pleased, when you haven't won in six games. You don't like to trade anybody.

"There is nothing worse that a player has to go through. There's a lot that has to be done in taking care of his family, moving and readjusting. I don't mean to be threatening. But we have to establish a standard of play."

It's possible some of the poor play is due to the seemingly ever-changing mix. Dino Ciccarelli and Peter Zezel are returning after missing weeks of action. Soviet Dimitri Khristich joined the squad last week. But then, as Michal Pivonka said, "If someone new is hired in your office, you can't say, 'I don't have to work.' "

Poile did not attend yesterday's practice. Maybe it was symbolic, maybe not. As chairman of the NHL's general managers committee, Poile talks regularly with his peers, but he said yesterday there have been no extra discussions. He also said he has not initiated trade talks with anybody, although he added he might not say so if he had. Historically, Poile has made more of trades in good times than bad.

"Everyone wants to do that because that is ideal," he said. "I haven't said anything about making trades." Asked if he thought that might be necessary, Poile said: "I will decide that after I sit down with the coaches and have a thorough review."

Being already late in the afternoon, Poile didn't think that was going to happen last night. And after tonight, the Capitals play Saturday in Quebec.

Tonight's game will be the 40th in an 80-game season. Poile said these evaluations would have taken place even if the team had won in its last six.

"But maybe this will be a more in-depth evaluation," Poile said. "I want to see what Terry thinks."

At the moment, the Capitals could use more scoring from the left side and a bit more thump on defense, although trades are never like adding parts to a car.

What does Washington have to offer? Centers.

In Zezel, Pivonka, Dale Hunter and Mike Ridley, the Capitals have four players who can be second-line centers on most NHL teams. None is a fourth-liner, if talent and experience are the gauge. Murray will tell you he thinks Pivonka could continue to be a top scorer at left wing, but to mess with something that works takes some thought.

"Nobody's untouchable," Druce said.

If Wayne Gretzky could be traded, that is theoretically true. On a practical level, though, some are more equal than others -- the Soviets, Khristich and Mikhail Tatarinov, for example. Logic says too much work went into acquiring them to trade them now.

Kevin Hatcher isn't likely to go anywhere and the goaltending has not been the problem.

"Everyone is feeling the pressure and we've just got to turn it around," Druce said. "The bottom line is we've got to pull together. There can't be individuals."