Washington Capitals General Manager David Poile says, "We have to push every button and knock on every door to get back to our winning ways." The button-pushing probably means roster moves but he stopped short of saying the door-knocking would lead to trades.

The Capitals haven't won in eight games and three weeks. Saturday night they suffered their fourth straight defeat, losing to the last-place Quebec Nordiques, 4-3, in front of 13,769 at La Colisee.

As is his way, Poile was not specific about which buttons he will push. The Christmas rush hadn't even started when the Capitals last won -- Dec. 11, when they beat the Philadelphia Flyers, 4-1, at Capital Centre. By now, everything that didn't fit or was the wrong color has been returned and we are moving on to other holidays. New Year's Day is when the Capitals will try, try again, playing host to the New Jersey Devils at 1:35 p.m.

Since the victory over the Flyers, the Capitals are 0-7-1. This is the worst stretch since Terry Murray replaced his brother Bryan last January in a move that followed an eight-game losing streak.

"It's the toughest thing a coach can go through," said Murray, who did more yelling after practice yesterday. "But in talking with players in the individual meetings, you see it's also very frustrating for the players."

There will be some change in the roster. A trade is possible, but Poile said, "I haven't been talking to anybody."

The Capitals have an extra center when all are healthy. Peter Zezel didn't play against Quebec after re-injuring his ankle in Friday's loss to the Rangers, but he practiced yesterday. "I'm planning on him being ready," Murray said.

Defenseman Calle Johansson might be a trade possibility, but then he wasn't the one benched in the third period against Quebec. That player was Mikhail Tatarinov.

"It was a direct result of a couple turnovers that led to two goals," Murray said. "Whether it's coming back from the time off because of his injury {strained knee ligament}, I'm not sure. Giving the puck away, not fronting his man, being outmuscled in one-on-one situations down low -- defensively, those things are the bread and butter of the position."

Toronto generates more than its share of trade rumors and the latest has the Maple Leafs talking to the Capitals, among other teams. The Maple Leafs do need a center. Right wing Gary Leeman, a once-prolific scorer, and defenseman Al Iafrate are rumored to be on the block. It isn't likely to be a package with both, though, because the two don't get along.

"Yes, I'd like Gary Leeman, but there are a lot of people in the league I'd like to have," Poile said. "That doesn't mean I'm talking to Toronto or that Toronto is interested in trading him."

Murray said one small part of the problem is that yesterday's practice was just the third in the last two weeks.

"The wheels have fallen off, we're rusty and the timing is off," said Murray, who might like to have back the three days off he gave the team before Christmas.

Defenseman Ken Lovsin, who accompanied the team to Quebec City but did not play, was sent back to AHL Baltimore yesterday. Murray said others might be brought up. Others might go down. There are a couple of extra forwards now and Murray wants that reduced to one. Those decisions will be part of more meetings between Poile and Murray this week.

"We can move on from evaluating to analyzing our current situation and what we will do to rectify it," Poile said. Asked how long that takes, he said, "Until we start winning."

The players have had a somewhat dazed look during this streak. It's not always the same look: In some instances on the ice, they appear uninspired; in others they appear to be trying too hard. Kevin Hatcher, the team's leading scorer, tried to carry the puck nearly the length of the ice while the team was shorthanded Saturday. If he scores, maybe it starts something -- Murray says he needs his stars to shine. But Hatcher didn't score and the Nordiques went the other way, with Joe Sakic scoring off the skate of Rod Langway. It was the second of three straight goals by the Nordiques.

"The way we're playing now, it's Murphy's Law -- everything that can go wrong will go wrong," Poile said. "Good teams find ways to win and teams that are struggling find ways to lose."