For most of the Washington Capitals, the present is so delightful there is no desire to recall the club's dismal past. Tonight's game in Detroit, however, marks noteworthy anniversaries for two of the newer Capitals, Ken Houston and Doug Jarvis.

Houston will be playing his 500th National Hockey League game, in the same city where he played his first in 1976. Houston's parents, who attended that debut at the old Olympia, will be in Joe Louis Arena for this one.

It will be the 600th straight NHL game for Jarvis, who never has sat one out since joining the Montreal Canadiens in 1975. He scored his first NHL goal against Detroit's Jim Rutherford.

Houston has played 100 fewer games largely because of battles with hepatitis that threatened to terminate his hockey career. He has licked that and no longer must take the medication that left him weakened during much of the two seasons at Calgary that preceded his trade to Washington.

Two recent events lifted further weight from Houston's shoulders; one gave him reason to puff out his chest.

A week ago, Houston underwent minor surgery to remove lymph nodes from his leg. Such a procedure always inspires fear of complications, but Houston received a clean bill of health.

Then, at 11 minutes past midnight on Sunday, Barbara Houston presented Ken with the couple's third child and first son.

"She had a few problems, but everything is fine now," said Houston, who missed Sunday's 7-4 victory at Quebec to be with his wife. "I was present for the delivery for the first time and I'm glad I was. It was quite an experience."

Houston's return gives Coach Bryan Murray the difficult task of determining whom to sit out tonight. Virtually every player who dressed Sunday performed capably, and Murray honored the fourth line of Ted Bulley, Alan Haworth and Craig Laughlin with the black No. 1 jerseys at yesterday's practice.

"I was just glad to play," said Bulley, a frequent press-box observer whose second goal of the season gave the Capitals a 4-2 lead at Quebec.

A possible candidate for a seat tonight is winger Bobby Carpenter, who might find it doubly uncomfortable. Carpenter suffered a bruised tailbone in Hartford Thursday and aggravated it yesterday.

"It numbed a nerve and I couldn't feel anything in my legs for a moment," Carpenter said.

Winger Bengt Gustafsson, who suffered a bruised right shoulder Dec. 28, is expected to be out another week.

One item Murray emphasized at the practice session in Detroit was four-on-four play. Quebec's Marc Tardif scored twice under those circumstances and the opposition has connected nine times this season to only two for Washington.

"The second half of the season is the time to work on things like that," Murray said. "So far I've been sticking to basics, but now we can afford to specialize in four on fours or five on threes."

The Capitals will be trying to extend their club-record streak of unbeaten road games to nine and are seeking to move eight games over .500 for the first time.

Detroit, after a brief December spurt, has looked awful in its last two starts, losing one-sided games to Toronto and the New York Rangers.