One might say the Washington Capitals are treating Jean Pronovost with kid gloves, except that the kid in this case is 35 years old, entering his 14th season in the National Hockey League.

While some teammates raced through Scandinavia on a timetable geared for nation-a-day tourists, and others sweated through twice-a-day workouts here, Pronovost adhered to a personal program. He skated daily at Hersheypark Arena, then rode a bicycle for 30 minutes.

The object of the special handling is to wheedle a 13th straight 20-goal season out of the crafty right wing, without repeating his physical collapse of last winter.

Pronovost had 14 goals by New Year's Day and only eight thereafter. He scored one in January, none the last 12 games of the season.

"It's been kind of nice, following my own schedule the last two weeks," Pronovost said. "I'm a little behind, but I'll pick up the slack and be ready for the opening game (Oct. 7 at Buffalo). It's a question of timing and that will come with more work.

"Hopefully, I won't be tired this year. The traveling I missed in Sweden will benefit me. It's tough to travel like that; the games are not the toughest part. Last year I was MVP in Sweden, but that meant nothing. The playoffs meant everything, and we didn't get there.

"I got tired and weak the second half of the season and our line went in a slump and really hurt the team. I must have been tired. I was trying, but I wasn't getting anything.

"All I have to do is get a little smarter and learn to pace myself. I love to play hockey and I always go all out. I'm not young anymore -- I'm 35 and that's not old, but maybe by hockey standards -- and I have to save my legs in practice and go all out in the games."

A year ago, Pronovost did everything. Besides a regular shift on the Roaring Twenties Line with Bob Kelly and Dennis Maruk, Pronovost killed penalties and played the right point on the power play. Coach Gary Green concedes he erred in placing so great a burden on aging legs.

"I know now what I did wrong with Prony," Green said. "We needed points, and he got some for us and it was hard to sit him down. I can't say now whether we'd have gotten more points or fewer if I had played him less.

"But we need his experience in the tough grinding months of January and February, so I've tried to program him. I plan to play him regularly, but not overplay him. He'll go a regular shift, then I'll ease him back occasionally to get his wind.

"I don't plan to use him as a penalty killer and on the power play besides the regular shift. A player 25, 26 or 27 can do all that, but not at 35. Utilizing him that way I can see him having an excellent season, not hindering his production. I still think he can score 20 goals in this league.

"He has strengthened himself, he's up to 190 pounds and he's in excellent shape. I think the special program has worked well, the bike to keep up his aerobic conditioning and once a day on the ice to work on timing and skills. Now we'll put him in exhibition games to get him ready."

Pronovost's first game action comes Wednesday night in Johnstown, Pa., against the team he once captained, the Pittsburgh Penguins.