When the Washington Capitals begin their 12th training camp at Mount Vernon Ice Rink on Tuesday, philosophy will play as much of a part in determining the team's makeup as performance.

Specifically, General Manager David Poile and Coach Bryan Murray must decide whether to place the greater emphasis on toughness or goal-scoring ability. In a way, that is a luxury. At past camps, it was enough just to try to find 20 players with NHL potential.

Considering the presence of the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers in the Patrick Division, the Capitals must be concerned with physical play. On the other hand, Washington's ability to score only 12 goals in five playoff games against the Islanders brought goal-scoring prowess to the forefront.

"For the first time ever, we're in a position to choose from a style point of view," Murray said. "One of the important things is to look at the player who will do the most for us during the latter part of the year and the playoffs.

"We have to be a strong enough team to win in the playoffs and physical stature is a little bit of a consideration. But we have to think about guys who can score for us, too."

A lean toward scoring potential would be a plus for three 5-foot-9 forwards -- Bryan Erickson, Mike Siltala and Daryl Evans.

Erickson had 14 goals the first half of the season but wound up in Binghamton when the Capitals opted for more playoff size. Siltala had 42 goals at Binghamton and Evans scored 51 two years ago with New Haven.

Emphasis on toughness would benefit the chances of Greg Adams, Ed Kastelic and top draftees Yvon Corriveau and John Druce.

Adams, 6-1 and 190, has scored only eight goals in 108 games with Washington. Kastelic, 6-2 and 200, had five in the American Hockey League last winter and amassed 194 penalty minutes. Corriveau (6-2, 205) and Druce (6-1, 187) had 23 and 12 goals, respectively, as juniors in Ontario.

Making the choice easy would be outstanding efforts by Lou Franceschetti and Andre Hidi, tough forwards who have shown they can score at lower levels but have yet to display NHL scoring punch.

Franceschetti, who was battling Paul Gardner for the AHL scoring lead when Washington called him up, scored only four times in 22 games. Hidi, a big point man in Canadian college hockey, made the Capitals a year ago, then suffered a knee injury after being farmed out.

Twenty-one players, plus recuperating David Jensen, will be bidding for the 12 forward spots.

"We have 16 forwards that have a legitimate chance to play on this hockey club," Murray said, while declining to speculate on who might already have been penciled out. "I expect all of them to come to camp and be very competitive. That's a first for us."

Presumably certain of starting berths are centers Bob Carpenter (when he resolves his contract dispute), Dave Christian, Doug Jarvis and Bengt Gustafsson, and wingers Mike Gartner, Gaetan Duchesne, Alan Haworth and Craig Laughlin.

Others in the hunt are Bob Gould, who disappointed with only 14 goals last year; Gary Sampson, coming back from a knee injury; Mark Taylor, obtained from Pittsburgh late in the season, and Grant Martin, signed after he was released by Vancouver.

Unlike a year ago, when there was a scramble for spots on defense, that position seems set, with Rod Langway, Scott Stevens, Larry Murphy, Darren Veitch and rookie Kevin Hatcher virtually assured starting berths. The sixth man will be either Peter Andersson, a disappointment to the team last season, or Timo Blomqvist, who has asked to be traded because of limited playing time.

Pat Riggin again ranks as the No. 1 goalie, with Al Jensen challenging and Bob Mason trying to break in. Rick St. Croix and Mike Blake will be in camp on a tryout basis, since Poile has expressed a desire to sign a fourth goalie for the organization.

Inasmuch as the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh and New Jersey have made no significant improvements that would enable them to threaten the Patrick's big three, the Capitals can afford some experimentation during the regular season. For once, they do not need to sell tickets on the basis of October and November success.

Season-ticket sales already have topped 6,700 and Marketing Director Lew Strudler expects to pass 7,000 before the Oct. 13 home opener against Philadelphia.

An indicator of the team's success is WDCA-TV-20's plan to show 20 road games, instead of the usual 15. Once, ratings were so low the station considered abandonment.

The 57-man roster will be divided into three teams for scrimmages beginning Wednesday, with a "gold medal game" to be played Sept. 24. All practice sessions are open to the public free of charge.

Exhibitions will be played at Capital Centre Friday, against Philadelphia, and Sept. 28, against Boston.