Harford's Gordie Howe, age 51, produced his 796th National Hockey League goal last night. Washington rookie Brent Tremblay, just turned 22, recorded his first. Neither displayed much excitement.

The Capitals' Greg Polis, on the other hand, netted his 174th and leaped like an old maid who had just snagged a bridal bouquet. For Polis, it was the first score in 20 games. It also moved the Capitals into a seemingly comfortable 3-1 lead.

By game's end, however, Washington had had to survive a Hartford power-play onslaught to escape with a 3-3 tie. So the record climbed minutely, to 5-17-5, and most of the 6,946 fans left with a somewhat dissatisfied feeling.

Washington Coach Gary Green was not unhappy, with late scratch Tom Rowe, who couldn't make it on his bruised left ankle, joining eight other injured regulars in the stands.

"Tonight I did feel like I was behind the Hershey bench," said Green, who started the season there. "I'm never satisified with one point, particularly in our own building, but under these circumstances I can't really be unhappy."

After Howe started the scoring with a 30-footer that slipped through goalie Gary Inness, the Capitals poured three in a row past Hartford's John Garrett.

Ryan Walter tied it by poking the puck at the side of the net and watching it slip off a Hartford skate.

"The goaltender had his skate on the post and I really don't know how it got through," Walter said. "I jammed it a couple of times and there it was in the net. I was the most surprised guy in the building."

Tremblay, playing his fifth NHL game, made it 2-1 before the first period ended, scoring on a drive from the left point.

"I shot too soon once before and it went into the guy's pads, so this time I decided to go around him," Tremblay said. "I shot and the puck went in and everybody else was jumping up and down, but it hit something in front and I didn't really know I had scored.

"I had to go over to Ryan Walter and ask him, 'Who scored?' Then when he said it was me, it was a little too late to get all excited about it. It was a thrill, though. I'm really starting to feel more comfortable on defense here and I'm really starting to enjoy myself, especially after the goal. I'm going to call Dad tonight."

After many Washington shots came close, Polis built the two-goal margin by converting Mike Gartner's pass from the right-wing boards at 12:08 of the second period. It was amost welcome score for a man who had 12 goals in 19 games as a Capital last year.

"I think this is the longest in 10 years in pro hockey that I've gone without scoring," Polis said. "It feels awful good. Maybe it's the first of many more.

"It's been very tough. It seems like I've been snakebit around the net. I tried to think of what I did when things were going good and I don't think I'm doing anything differently. But tonight I thought whenever I got the chance I'd go for the net. That's how I scored. I yelled to Garts and he put it right on my stick."

Washington's sixth victory was a bright possiblity then. However, Jordy Douglas converted a Blaine Stoughton pass with Washington's Paul Mulvey in the penalty box, having the margin. Then rookie Hay Allison scored on a setup by Mike Rogers early in the third period and it was even.

With 3:02 left, Tremblay was chased by referee Bruce Hood for wielding a high stick on Rogers. Until that call, the Capitals had dominated the final period, but Inness was severely pressed during Tremblay's two minutes of agony in the box.

"I had cut him off in the corner and he pushed my arm up around his neck," Tremblay said. "Then he let his feet out from under him to make it look good. But it was an obvious penalty and it certainly came at an unfortunate time."

Fortunately for Tremblay, it all came out in the wash. So did his first major-league paycheck. He had stuck it in a pants pocket, then washed and dried the pants.

"I only brought two sets of clothes when I came from Hershey (Nov. 28)," Tremblay said. "I didn't know how long I'd be staying. And I didn't have a bank account here. But I got another check today and I opened an account right away."

Very quickly it bore interest.