When the Washington Capitals play the Cincinnati Stingers in Hampton, Va., tonight, Jim Bedard will probably share the Capitals' goaltending duties. And Washington management, while anxious to win another exhibition, would not be unhappy to see Bedard give up a goal, so it can get on with the inevitable - assignment to Hershey of the American Hockey League.

Only 20, with only a year of International League play separating him from a fine junior career at Sudbury. Bedard seems in need of considerable experience. He knows that as well as everyone else. But how do you justify shipping out a goaltender who hasn't given up a goal?

"Right now, our thinking is Hershey," said general manager Max McNab. "We don't want to push anybody too quickly. But if nobody scores on him, I guess he'll stay. Mental attitude and confidence are important in a goaltender, and he has a lot of confidence."

Another important factor is the confidence of teammates. Michael Belhumeur-played well for the Capitals a few years ago, but adversity kept him from victory. In 42 appearances, he had a record of 0-29-4, and when he would go into the next, the Capitals would wonder how they were going to lose this time.

Bedard, although he has faced few shots, is considered a good-luck charm by his teammates after 20 shuton' munutes against the New York Rangers and 30 against Toronto, when Washington ralled from a 21 deficit wo won 62.

"I don't know if they were helping me out more, figuring I didn't have the experience or something, but that third period against Toronto was one of the best periods I've seen them play," Bedard said. "That helped all the guys' confidence. There hadn't been much spirit before that, with all the work we had, but that got everybody going and it carried over into the (3-3) game with Detroit."

Bedard admits to being in awe of KHL ahooters a year ago, when he sung on until the final cut and was shipped to Dayton.

"It's different now, I feel more a part of the team," Bedard said. "And I think there's a togetherness here now that wasn't there a year ago. Everybody is trying to help everybody else."

Bedard, 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, has no illusions about his chances of playing in the NHL this seasason, but he is not about to request a demotion.

"I know they're not keeping me here for fun," Bedard said. "When my number's called, I'll be ready. But I know I'm not really ready for the NHL. Maybe next year, with that experience and what I've learned here. Right now, I'm just glad to be able to practice with these guys.

"I'm learning every day - passing situations, defending against the power play, and everybody can shoot the puck. When they have three on ohs, or two on ohs, and come flying in, I have to be really alert. In Dayton, there were guys I could stop all the time. Here I see different moves each time down the ice."

One of the joys of training in Washington is the opportunity to work with boyhood idol Roger Crozier.

"I've patterned myself after Roger," Bedard said. "Our styles are similar. He deflects shots a lot with his stick, and goes down and up quickly. He comes way out to challenge the shooter, too, and I know they want us to do that. In practice, you have to watch for a guy going around you, but in a game when they drop their head, they'll crank the puck."

Against the Rangers, Bedard twice came out to smother shots by sharp-shooter Don Murdoch, and one could slmost hear these pluses ringing up on coach Tom McVie's evaluation register.

"He's improved with every workout," McVie said of Bedard. "You can see a big change just since the goalie school we had here in mid-September. He's always alert. It would have been a shame not to take a look. How are we going to know if we don't use him?"

The Capitals play four games in the next six nights, so Bedard will get more work. And unless somebody finds a way to score on him, those Capital Centre crowds could start chanting "Jimmy" a couple of years ahead of schedule.