For the first time in 249 games, right wing Mike Gartner will be absent from the Washington Capitals' lineup tonight. A few hours before the Capitals engage the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden (WDCA-TV-20), Gartner's left eye will be examined in Hyattsville by Dr. George Malouf.

"My vision is still blurry, but at least I can open the eye now, so I know it's getting better," Gartner said. "When I can see, I'll play."

Gartner was struck in the eye by a puck during the third period of Sunday's 6-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets. He needed stitches on both the eyelid and cheek.

"It didn't seem so bad at first, but I went to a specialist (Malouf) and he said it was hemorrhaging and we would have to wait until it cleared up before he could tell if there was any permanent damage," Gartner said. "It's a scary thing, but it does seem to be getting better and I hope to be able to play Friday in Vancouver."

Gartner last missed a game at Atlanta on Feb. 1, 1980, after suffering a bruised heel in Chicago two nights earlier. He sat out two games earlier the same season because of a charley horse, but otherwise he has played every game since joining the Capitals in October 1979.

In Gartner's absence, Coach Bryan Murray shifted Bengt Gustafsson to right wing and inserted Ted Bulley at left wing, with Dennis Maruk remaining at center. The Gustafsson-Maruk-Gartner line had been the Capitals' most productive offensively, with 73 goals.

Glen Currie will remain at left wing alongside Doug Jarvis and Ken Houston. That trio produced the first two goals against Winnipeg.

Defenseman Darren Veitch will make his first appearance with the Capitals since he suffered a broken collarbone in Pittsburgh Oct. 27. Murray said Veitch would be used at the point on the power play, plus spot duty on a third defensive pairing, with Randy Holt on the left side.

Al Jensen will be back in the Washington nets for his first outing since Thursday's 8-3 loss on Long Island, when he yielded all eight goals in 40 minutes.

This will be Murray's sixth visit to the Garden as coach of the Capitals and he has yet to suffer defeat, recording three victories and two ties. By contrast, the Rangers are unbeaten in their last six trips to Capital Centre.

"We seem to exercise patience and discipline there, and our disciplined checking game breaks them down," Murray said. "But when we come home, we play their game and try to do things offensively we hadn't worried about in New York."

The Rangers, fourth in the Patrick Division, trail the Capitals by 13 points. The teams meet each other four times, including tonight's contest, which also marks the opener of a six-game road trip for Washington.

"We definitely have to win at least one of the four from the Rangers to assure the third spot," Murray said. "I think two would finish them. As for the trip, we've suggested to the guys that we want to play at least .500. This is another segment in our incentive plan and seven points is the objective. I think six is fairly realistic."