The confused expression on young Bobby Carpenter's face was the most telling response by any of the Capitals yesterday to the news that Coach Gary Green and General Manager Max McNab had been fired.

Although many of the players indicated they understood the move, Carpenter had trouble collecting his thoughts.

"It's the first time this has ever happened to me," Carpenter said, his eyes darting. "I don't want to say anything. I just don't know what to say."

When asked if this were a sad day for him, Carpenter said, "Yes, it is. Gary was my first professional coach. But I don't want to say any more. I just don't."

Assistant Coach Yvon Labre skated around Fort DuPont's training rink with Carpenter several times yesterday, explaining the developments.

Carpenter, who forfeited his college eligiblity and signed with the Capitals this fall -- at least partly because he and his family were impressed with Green -- was the first player out of the dressing room after practice. His stride was quick.

Several players, including goaltender Mike Palmateer, said they did not yet want to reveal publicly their feelings about the departure of Green and McNab, or about Roger Crozier, the interim general manager and coach.

Those who did talk agreed on one thing: the Capitals needed a shakeup.

"You hate to see something like this, but there had to be a change," said veteran winger Bob Kelly. "We all expected something. And it's hard to get rid of 20 players. So, as usual, the coach is the scapegoat. Our record (1-12) is a brutal record. With the team playing this way and the fans being unhappy, it had to happen sometime.

"Management felt it had to make the move now to salvage the season. But anybody who fully faulted the coach or general manager . . . well, that's a crazy statement to make."

"I'm sorry to see Max and Gary and Bill (Mahoney, the assistant coach) go," said Mike Gartner, whose bruised right hand has reduced his normal efficiency. "I had gotten to know them well through the years. I think it's partly their fault and partly our fault. We all have to look at ourselves as players, but we can't take all the blame. They have to take some, too."

"That'll be three coaches in just over five years, but this is the first time it's been a clean sweep," said Rick Green, who was hampered Wednesday by a jammed right wrist.

"We realize we're 1-12 and, just because they change coaches, we won't come out of 1-12," said Orest Kindrachuk, acquired in midsummer and now idled by a strained back. "If we think we will, just like that, we're in for a shock.

"But we can work it out. I've gotten to know these guys in a month and we can work it out."

"Any time someone gets fired, there's an empty feeling," said defenseman Paul MacKinnon. "The team's 1-12, so I guess a change had to be made. We gotta get this thing turned around somehow. Gary was a good person, and a good hockey person, too. I liked him."

Defenseman Howard Walker said he hadn't been sure whether several players or the coach would be the first to go. "There was a feeling something would happen," Walker said. "Players or management. Usually, when a team is going bad, they bring in new players. I don't want to try to evaluate anything. Whatever changes are made are management decisions."

There were reports this season that Green was having trouble motivating some players.

When asked if the coaching change would help the situation, defenseman Pat Ribble said, "We sure hope it helps. We've got to be optimistic."

Green spoke to the players in the Fort DuPont dressing room shortly after he was dismissed by owner Abe Pollin. Crozier then held a short team meeting, which was described by several players as "very quiet."

All the players interviewed said the team was not as bad as its woeful record indicated.

"There's no reason for us to be in this situtation," Kelly said. "I was very optimistic after the second game of the season (the team's only victory, over Detroit). But then it felt like somebody pulled the plug after that.

"To ask 2 1/2 hours of our best play isn't much to ask from today's society," Kelly said. "That much shouldn't depend on who's behind the bench."