A year ago, the Washington Capitals had so many new faces that only four players who started in the 1981 opener enjoyed similar status in 1982.

The turnover paid dividends; the Capitals boosted their point total from 65 to 94, finished third in the Patrick Division and took part in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time.

Now, as they prepare for the start of their 10th season, the Capitals seem destined to have no more than three newcomers on the roster. Two are certain--center Dave Christian and defenseman Peter Andersson--with a third possible when the decision is made on the fourth-line left wing.

Despite the minimal changes, the Capitals expect to make another surge forward, although nobody is suggesting a repeat of the 29-point advance. The optimism is based on the potential contributions of Christian and Andersson, especially as they should help the struggling power play, and the expectation that a year's experience will add to the worth of such youngsters as Scott Stevens, Bob Carpenter, Timo Blomqvist, Al Jensen and Gaetan Duchesne.

"Our moves in the offseason were made with the aim of increasing togetherness," said General Manager David Poile. "We want to boost stability and local identity, and I saw no reason to trade an apple for an apple.

"We're not the most talented hockey club, but we have a good blend of what it takes to win. We have two offensive lines and two defensive lines and with David Christian in place of Dennis Maruk we have a better blend.

"In the last week, Christian has been used as a penalty killer, as a point man and forward on the power play, and at center and right wing. He's done a good job wherever (Coach) Bryan (Murray) has put him.

"Peter Andersson instead of Randy Holt should help our defense. Andersson has shown that he is a hockey player. And with Scott Stevens bigger and stronger, and showing no complacency, our defense has got to be better.

"Ken Houston, who's just turned 30, is the only player with any age. All our other forwards are quite young and some who have been around a while, like Mike Gartner and Bengt Gustafsson, are just reaching their prime.

"We need more scoring, but I can see a lot of guys adding to last year's figures."

Without Maruk, the Capitals figure to be even more defensively oriented than last season, when they ranked fifth in the National Hockey League with 283 goals against.

"It already happened from last year," said captain Rod Langway, when asked how the team figured to improve. "With one year of being together, the chemistry is already made. Now we have to work as hard or harder than last year.

"We have the people and everybody is in the same frame of mind. We'll play defensive hockey, waiting for the breaks, and keep our goals against down. We all have to be proud of that, rather than scoring two goals and losing the game."

Moving forward will not be easy, particularly in the Patrick Division, where virtually every club seems stronger than a year ago.

"I could see us having a better season and not as many points as a year ago," Poile said. "Our goal has to be finishing first or second in the division, regardless of our point total."

"It will be tougher this year, because the farther up the hill you want to go, the tougher it gets," said Jack Button, the club's director of player personnel. "The opposition will be more prepared, so you have to work that much harder. And you have to guard against complacency, or the improvement won't be there."

Button sees a more rounded defensive unit with the addition of Andersson and the return of a healthy Darren Veitch.

"The defense was good last year, but it will be even stronger this year, with good balance among the six defensemen in defensive and offensive play," Button said. "Scott Stevens is still only 19 and nowhere near his peak, Timo Blomqvist has shown considerable improvement in camp and Peter Andersson is going to be a quality defenseman in the NHL. Darren Veitch comes back for a full year, and he and Andersson should help the power play.

"Playing together for a year, a spirit has developed on this team. In four years, this is the best training camp in every aspect. You don't have to yell at the players. The tempo is high anyway. (Hershey Coach) Gary Inness says there's no way to punish this team with skating drills, because they eat it up.

"Another big factor in our favor is depth. Guys like Greg Theberge and Wayne Prestage are putting pressure on the others. We're finally able to use our minor-league system for what the intention was, to develop players. The guys here realize the young players will develop, and nothing forces hard work like competition for jobs."