Slip into that game jersey and take the Capitals' pennant off the garage-sale pile. They're finally ready to start playing hockey again.

These are the new-look Capitals, a team that has spent an endless summer wondering if it would be here for its ninth season. Hefty dollar losses, the team's inability to reach the NHL playoffs and crowds of sitting-room-always size threatened to rid Washington of its hockey franchise before another puck was dropped.

But then the financial tightrope got a safety net -- new investors to foot the bills for broken sticks, loyalists bought up a bunch of tickets and a new general manager administered a quick fix of credibility from Montreal.

And now Washington skates into its 1982-83 season with 11 new players and an optimistic approach.

"The trade had a lot to do with picking everybody up," said David Poile, who took over as general manager only a month ago. The trade, still a topic for head-shaking discussion among the hockey hierarchy, sent longtime Capitals Ryan Walter and Rick Green to the Canadiens.

In exchange, Montreal defensemen Rod Langway and Brian Engblom, scrappy center Doug Jarvis and left wing Craig Laughlin stepped into the Washington lineup.

That move, on the eve of training camp, gave Washington much-needed defensive help. "Defense had always been a problem," Coach Bryan Murray said. "Before, Rick (Green) was the guy, and no one guy can do it all."

Although Langway and Engblom played together for the Canadiens, Murray has split them, skating Darren Veitch with Langway and first-round draft choice Scott Stevens with Engblom.

"Playing Scott with one of them will teach him a lot," Murray said. Stevens, 18, played only one year of junior hockey with Kitchener before the Capitals tapped him. On opening day of training camp, he wondered aloud about his transition to the big leagues.

But Murray often talks about Stevens' improving play, adding he could be "pretty solid" by Christmas.

Stevens is the only fresh-faced rookie in a Washington sweater. Center Milan Novy, acquired in June by former acting general manager Roger Crozier, has spent all of his hockey career in his native Czechoslovakia, but is technically a rookie at the advanced age of 31.

Novy, simultaneously adjusting to the NHL's smaller surface and the English language, is certain to get a regular turn, although Murray is not sure of his linemates.

"You've got to give him a little time," Murray said. "It's all a strange situation for him."

Novy's difficulties have little to do with hockey skill. "There are a few plays we've worked on that need to be explained," said Mike Gartner. "Milan has to watch a few times to figure out what's going on, then he's okay."

If it's all new to Novy, he has company. Even Gartner said he needed a program to figure out who's who.

He knows Dennis Maruk, of course, who goes into his fourth Washington season as the senior man in town. Bobby Carpenter, last year's gee-whiz kid, returns to skate on Gartner's line, along with Bengt Gustafsson.

Goalie Dave Parro, who played 52 nights for Washington last season, will be back in action as soon as he recovers from an injury to his left shoulder. Hit by a practice shot during training camp, Parro might miss some early games, but wants to be No. 1 in the net again.

Gartner--and other Capitals watchers--should recognize Chris Valentine, Lee Norwood and Veitch. But then the name game begins.

Left Wing Ted Bulley and defenseman Dave Hutchison were traded from Chicago two days after Crozier was fired. Goaltender Pat Riggin and right wing Ken Houston came from Calgary, and left wing Alan Haworth spent last year in Buffalo. The Montreal Four round out the newcomers' club.

Off ice, the listwas formerly assistant general manager for the Flames, and Dick Patrick is the newly named executive vice president.

Because both are new on the scene, Poile says, there's an advantage. "Initially, at least, you're not clouded as far as evaluating things or players," he said.

Poile makes no secret of wanting -- or is it willing? -- his team in the playoffs next spring, a task that involves beating out two teams in the Patrick Division (which consists, in addition to Washington, of the New York Rangers and Islanders, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and New Jersey).

The Capitals' schedule, particularly the first part, doesn't allow for piling up points the cheap way, but Poile said, "If we do well during the first two months or so, if we're about .500 then . . . look at the amount of times we play the Rangers, Islanders and Flyers. Is any one of them going to get 100 points? I don't think so."

Although Murray isn't going around spewing Stanley Cup predictions, he is breathing easier facing his first full year behind the Capitals' bench.

"The players are more confident," he said. "Our power play is working, our defense will be better. We may not be as together or consistent as we will be eventually. The most important thing for us right now is just to get started."