It took awhile but, as Coach Bryan Murray promised they would, the Washington Capitals' kids are playing pretty good hockey. And none is playing better than Bobby Carpenter.

The talented young player with the unmistakable Bay State accent will score his 20th goal one of these nights, perhaps on Saturday, when the Capitals return to action at Bloomington, Minn., against the North Stars (WDCA-TV-20 at 9). However, the statistics that read 19 goals and 27 assists, fourth best on the team, attest to only a small part of Carpenter's accomplishments.

Coming out of high school hockey with only a passing acquaintance with defensive fundamentals, Carpenter has learned his lessons. There were difficult moments at first, and his minus 18 rating shows it has not been easy, but Carpenter in the four games on this road trip has displayed a mastery of the basics.

"The last five hockey games, Bobby has played extremely well," Murray said. "There has been a turnaround for him at left wing, and he and Bengt Gustafsson and Mike Gartner have become a hell of a line.

"Bobby is talking to the guys, and he's up on the bench yelling at them. He's got some enthusiasm now and he's into the game. Before he'd just sit quietly at the end of the bench."

"Just watch the way he does things out there," said Assistant Coach Yvon Labre, who has been both patient and strict with Carpenter. "Look at the way he makes himself available for a pass, instead of jamming up on the puck. He never used to do that; now he could almost teach the other guys."

"I feel much better; I'm not as tight as I was," Carpenter said. "I don't know why. I've been looking forward to this road trip, a chance to take my time and have a good time, to look around and see some things. It seems like there's always something to do at home."