The "goaltenders' soap opera" goes on as the Washington Capitals continue their current four-game western trip. Will Coach Danny Belisle find a net-minder to love, or will this be another season of broken hearts?

Following a light, 45-minute practice this morning, Belisle confirmed that Rollie Boutin, 21, would make his first National Hockey League start against the Los Angeles Kings at the Forum eight hours later.

As the Caps spent today in balmy Southern California, the man who was their No. 1 goalie until last weekend, Jim Bedard, was in Hershey, Pa., practicing overtime and thinking of the team he is eager to rejoin.

Bedard, 22, was sent to the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League on Saturday to work out his manifold problems, and Boutin was called up to replace him.

Bedard is sure he can quickly work his way out of the puzzling rut that led him back to the minor leagues after starting his second NHL season with great expectation. He trudged back to Hershey, chocolate capital of the East, looking not for Mr. Goodbar, but for misplaced confidence in abilities that he knows are his.

"Goaltending is probably more than 50 percent mental. My problem was confidence and concentration," he said.

Bedard stopped 34 shots in Hershey's 4-3 loss to Binghamton Saturday night. "I felt my game was coming back. I feel good and I'm putting in the effort," he said.

Bedard played 43 of the Caps' final 58 games last season and set a club record for the lowest goals-against average: 3.66.

But somehow, the rich promise evaporated. Bedard gradually lost his self-esteem and the confidence of Belisle as his goals-against average ballooned to 4.32 and his record fell to 4-10-3 in precisely 1,000 minutes on the ice this season.

"He stopped playing the angles and was backing in to the net too much," said Belisle, the first-year coach who despaired as Bedard stopped coming out and challenging shooters.

"I don't know why he went bad, but he was inconsistent and just not up to what we expect in the National Hockey League. Maybe it was just confidence. Sometimes a goalie starts doing the wrong thing instinctively instead of the right thing."

The fans wonder why Belisle, who had alternated Bedard and Wolfe earlier in the season, suddenly decided to start Bedard in five of six games, even though he was playing dreadfully and drawing criticism for allowing soft goals.

"I wanted to find out as soon as possible if he could get back to where he was the first couple of games and, I gather, last season," explained Belisle. "I talked it over with Max (General Manager Max McNab) and Roger (Crozier, the ex-goaltender who now is a scout and assistant manager for the Caps) and we decided to give him a chance to play himself back into form. It didn't work out so we decided to send him down, to give him a change of scene to pull himself together."

Bedard, who gave up 26 goals in his last five games with the Caps, including six to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Capital Centre Friday night as disenchanted fans chanted "Bernie, Bernie, Bernie," like sheep inviting a Wolfe to the door, says he was "kind of relieved" when informed by McNab Saturday morning that he was going to the minors.

"It seemed like things were getting worse instead of better," he said. "I thought they'd let Bernie play a few games while I worked out my problems in practice, but they wanted me to do it in games, and it wasn't happening."