Nobody can accuse Bernie Wolfe of dogging it this summer. The Washington Capitals' most popular goaltender has religiously prepared for his third NHL season by lifting weights, running, exercising and even hitting pucks off his patio.

"I put a carpet remnant on the patio," Wolfe said, "and put my gloves on. Then I shot pucks into the yard and my dog brought them back. The dog needed the exercise. It was getting pretty fat."

Weight is a problem for Wolfe, but in the opposite context. His spare 5-foot-9 frame has contributed to a run-down feeling that last year blossomed into post-viral polyneuritis. Wolfe left a game at Buffalo in the first minute, was flown home from Denver after feeling ill and missed a month of action.

"I feel good," Wolfe said. "I'm not going to go in as light as last year. I started camp at 158 and by the end of the first day I was down to 153. You can't catch up. You're too tired to eat three decent meals.

"This year I'm at 163. I feel much stronger. I'm going to concentrate on eating better and make sure I don't lose strength. I'll be taking vitamins, too. Working as hard as we do, you have to be physically strong and maintain your resistance."

Wolfe has other thoughts besides stopping pucks, maintaining his strength and winning the No. 1 job from newcomer Gary Smith. He wants very much to improve his puck handling ability, and the backyard dog days were merely one facet of his improvement plans.

"Bernie Wolfe can stop the puck and he has no trouble making saves, even rebound saves," said coach Tom McVie, "but he can't handle the puck well enough. A goalie in hockey has to be more active, more a part of the game, like a goalie in lacrosse.

"Good goalies handle the puck, intimidate forecheckers, get teammates out of difficulty. They direct and quarterback the defensemen."

"We want to get our goalies passing the puck," said general manager Max McNab. "We want to coordinate the defense and the goaltending. Gerry Cheevers trapping the Philly forecheckers and getting the puck up ice was a big factor in Boston beating the Flyers four straight."

"Cutting off the passes from the man in the corner, that's foremost," said Wolfe. "Last year I concentrated on the man in front, letting the puck go to him ad trying to beat him with speed. Now I'm trying to get the puck before it gets there."

Wolfe is not especially joyous about training camp, which begins Sept. 19, in Hershey, Pa.

"It will be difficult," Wolfe said. "But this early work has helped. The weightlifting helped, too, and I played a lot of tennis and golf to loosen up.

"I ran a lot more, even though I hate running. And I did 55 pushups every morning and 55 situps every evening. I was dead after the pushups, but I'm confident I can pass all the training-camp requirements."

He's sure he can become adept at passing the puck, too.