Defenseman Rick Green, like the U.S. cavalry or, perhaps more appropriately, the Canadian Mounties, comes riding to the rescue of the Washington Capitals tonight.

Green, who has missed 10 games with a badly sprained right wrist, will be back in the lineup as the Pittsburgh Penguins visit Capital Centre for an 8:05 p.m. contest.

Green banged up the wrist Nov. 18 in Quebec, rapping the boards as he missed checking the Nordiques' Peter Stastny. It was first feared that the wrist was broken, but for once a Capital loss was not so disastrous as the initial diagnosis.

For seven games, Green wondered whether he really was needed, because the Capitals did not lose. Over the last three, however, there has been no doubt, as the fragile backline of rookies and battered veterans has come apart in three onesided defeats.

"I don't really have a feel for it yet," Green said, "but it's come a long way. I'm lifting good weights with no pain. I just have to get full mobility. I'll be wearing a leather sleeve over the wrist, with a metal plate over the back so I won't hyperextend anything."

After watching the Capitals lose to Vancouver Tuesday, Green commented that, "I can't stand this any more. I was almost sick sitting up there watching it." He added that, "We'll be all right. This team has too much character to give up all we've accomplished so far."

Winger Bengt Gustafsson will see considerably more action tonight than he did in Wednesday's 6-2 loss to the New York Rangers. Gustafsson, who dislocated his left shoulder Saturday night, tried to come back Wednesday, but it still was very sore and Coach Gary Green returned him to the bench after a couple of shifts.

"It was a physical game and you don't gamble on hurting a key player who figures to be ready for full duty this weekend. I used him one shift against (Anders) Hedberg, who wasn't likely to hurt him, but the risk just wasn't worth it," Green said.

Gustafsson started the season brilliantly, scoring a goal in the opening game and battering opponents with solid, unexpected checks. However, he soon bogged down with bruises, and trainer Gump Embro, asked where Gustafsson was hurting, said, "Shoulder, hip, thigh, foot -- you name it and it's hurting him."

Pittsburgh defenseman Randy Carlyle dealt Gustafsson the first disabling blow Nov. 12 with a center-ice check that knocked the Swede unconscious. The diagnosis was merely a stiff neck and he sat out only one game, the first he had missed in two NHL seasons.

A strained back, suffered in Toronto Nov. 29, forced him to miss another contest and, in his return, against Colorado Saturday, he had his shoulder knocked out of place.