The Los Angeles Kings and Philadelphia Flyers once amassed 372 penalty minutes in one period. That is 18 minutes more than the Washington Capitals have served in their first 29 games this season.

At 12.2 minutes per game, the Capitals rank 21st in the NHL in that department, or first when viewed from the proper positive standpoint. Next in line are the New York Rangers, with 14.4 minutes a game.

Those numbers would indicate a couple of nice, clean games when the teams meet tonight at 9 o'clock at Capital Centre and Sunday at 7:30 at Madison Square Garden. However, there is no guarantee of same.

The Capitals have been charged with only eight major penalties this season, five coming against the Rangers. In three meetings with New York, Washington has averaged 27.7 penalty minutes; in 26 against the rest of the league, the average is 10.

"Maybe there's a bit more of a rivalry, with the division so tight," said Scott Stevens, whose three majors have come against the Rangers. "It probably brings out more of our anger to each other. And the first couple of games bothered me when we lost, particularly the one where we had a three-goal lead and they got four back on the power play. You feel like you owe them something."

The Capitals had a penalty problem early in the season, yielding five extra-man goals in the two losses to the Rangers. But they killed all four New York power plays in a 2-1 victory at the Garden Nov. 28. Over the last 10 games, during which Washington is 8-1-1, the opposition has been parading to the penalty box.

"When you start playing well, the penalties don't come your way," said captain Rod Langway. "When we get skating the way we can, the other team often gets frustrated and starts grabbing."

Langway has taken only two major penalties in two seasons, but he hardly plays a cream-puff style. He points to the demise of the goon around the NHL as a key to the reduction in fights, but he also notes his own method of gaining revenge without paying a price in penalty time.

"The game is changing," Langway said. "Most general managers want strong, two-way hockey players who are tough and can take care of themselves. A few years ago, everybody had four or five fighters who intimidated people, but no matter how good a fighter you are today, you have to be able to play, and nobody wants to take stupid penalties.

"We've got a good feeling on this club and the guys stick together. We won't be run out of the building; we showed that against Philly last year. But our better players aren't going to be taken off the ice by guys raising sticks or trying to fight us.

"I'd love to fight, but I don't worry about it any more. I'll accept a good hit. If I get a cheap shot, I won't drop my gloves and get chased, but I'll wait for my chance to get even. I expect to play a few more years and I'll get plenty of chances to even up scores."

Coach Bryan Murray, whose 20 minutes for two gross misconducts place him fifth on the Capitals' penalty list, wants his team to play aggressive hockey and does not mind if his players are penalized for charging or boarding. In fact, he wishes it would happen more often. But he and his assistants have preached the disservice of major and misconduct penalties.

"I like hard-nosed hockey, but we do have some restrictions," Murray said. "We talk about not going overboard and getting an extra 10. If you get two, take it and go to the box. I'll do the yelling at the ref."

Ex-Capital Gary Inness has been fired as coach of the Hershey Bears, who have struggled since terminating their working agreement with Washington . . . Pat Riggin will be in the Capitals' nets tonight . . . Al Jensen practiced yesterday and said he felt much better. His problem has been diagnosed as a muscle injury that soon will heal.