It is year eight and getting late for the Washington Capitals, who have vowed to look only forward as they open their home schedule against the Detroit Red Wings at Capital Centre tonight at 8.

That is fine with goalie Mike Palmateer, who would just as soon not look even as far in the past as yesterday.

"I got the times mixed up," Palmateer replied when asked why he appeared on Centre ice at 10:30 a.m. for a 10 o'clock practice.

"Practice is from 10 to 12, he wasn't here and he can expect to be fined," said Coach Gary Green. "He's in the doghouse." Green then declined to say whether Palmateer or Dave Parro would be in goal against Detroit.

It was Green who ordered the team to focus on what is ahead of them and to forget the past. Unfortunately for the Capitals, a glance at the immediate future shows games against Boston, Philadelphia twice, Buffalo, Quebec and the New York Islanders twice.

Playing at home figures to be a big boost to the nomads who already have traveled close to 20,000 miles without defeating an NHL opponent this fall. At least, it should be a plus if nobody disobeys orders and remembers that Washington was sub-.500 at home last season.

Asked if he had discovered any reason for that, Green replied, "As I told the players the other night, you can't talk about the past in a dressing room with a 30 percent turnover. I don't give a damn about what happened in the past. Our game Wednesday (a 5-3 loss at Buffalo) is in the past.

"Without question, at the end of a season, you have to analyze what happened and make the best corrections the organization is capable of making. But then you have to let it go."

General Manager Max McNab had another view: "I think possibly it was related to pressure on the goalies."

That put the spotlight back on Palmateer, who guaranteed a playoff berth for Washington a year ago after the Capitals handed him a long-term contract at about $180,000 per season. But he had some trouble finding a home here, as some soft goals turned on red lights rather than the fans at the Centre.

On the road, by contrast, he was often impeccable, as in 6-0 and 5-2 victories at Philadelphia, a 2-0 success at Detroit and an important 3-2 triumph at Boston.

"I always have played better on the road," Palmateer said. "I've thought about it and I think maybe it's because at home you're supposed to win and on the road you're supposed to lose. I just don't want to lose. I get way up, because it's me against the world, so to speak. On the road, a goaltender usually has to stand on his head if you're going to win."

The penitent Palmateer is prepared to stand on his head at the Centre tonight, too, if necessary.

"I don't know whether I'll be in there or not, but if I play this one, I guarantee I'll be pumped up," Palmateer said.

Winger Dennis Ververgaert was sent to Fredericton, New Brunswick, of the American Hockey League, a Quebec farm team in desperate need of help after dropping 11-1 and 11-3 exhibitions. He is subject to immediate recall . . . Center Tim Tookey suffered a wrenched knee in practice and is not expected to play tonight . . . Alan Hangsleben will replace Tookey and either he or Gaetan Duchesne will start at left wing on a line with Bengt Gustafsson at center and Roland Stoltz at right wing. That leaves Orest Kindrachuk for penalty killing and power-play duty . . . About 11,000 tickets have been sold for tonight's contest . . . Assistant coaches Bill Mahoney and Yvon Labre scouted the Red Wings in Philadelphia last night.