Jorgen Pettersson, wearing Glen Currie's old No. 12, made his first appearance in a Washington Capitals uniform Saturday night. As far as Coach Bryan Murray is concerned, there was a new and welcome left wing wearing No. 14, too.

Gaetan Duchesne not only scored the winning goal in a 2-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks at Capital Centre. He also skated with authority and crispness and applied forechecking pressure that evoked memories of years past.

"When I saw him play last night and think of how he played three weeks ago, it's just not the same guy," Murray said. "He hasn't been putting enough demands on himself physically."

That subject had become a sore one between Murray and Duchesne.

"We had some long and very heated discussions," Murray said. "I was very concerned about what a couple of guys were giving us, and he was one of them. I felt the conditioning wasn't there.

"But the three-day minicycle (conditioning program) we had two weeks ago certainly helped, and now he's playing much better. He's grabbing the puck and doing things. He wants to hold on to it and make a play instead of just trying to get rid of it."

Duchesne, usually mild-mannered, acknowledged he had been vocally reluctant to accept Murray's evaluation.

"I thought I was playing well, but the coaches with tapes and everything look at us more than we look at ourselves," Duchesne said. "We sat down, and he talked to me and made me realize I had to get going.

"This is my fifth year, and maybe I had too much confidence in myself. But Bryan is a good coach, and I have to listen to him. I felt good last night, and I hope I can go on from here."

Duchesne, a penalty-killing standout in previous seasons, had been dropped from the top three units and was being used in short-handed situations only when one of the designated six was in the penalty box. With Friday's trade of Doug Jarvis, however, he was promoted onto first-line duty with Bob Gould.

It was Gould who fed Duchesne for Saturday's short-handed game-winner, his first goal in 17 games. It was an important confidence-builder because Duchesne had come tantalizingly close in an earlier short-handed situation and was beginning to wonder if he ever would score.

Vancouver had made a poor line change on the power play, leaving Duchesne alone. He yelled at Scott Stevens, who passed him the puck, and went in for a good shot on Richard Brodeur. After the goalie made a fine save, Duchesne shot the rebound off a post.

"It came to my mind when I hit the post that I had tried everything and nothing had come," Duchesne said. "But I told myself I had to keep on working hard, and then it happened, and I got the big goal, and now I hope the bad times are over."

If Murray has succeeded in his reclamation project with Duchesne, it is just in time, because it quickly became apparent that Pettersson will require considerable attention.

The Swede, who averaged 32 goals in five previous NHL seasons, had only five in 23 games at Hartford and admitted the obvious, that he was lacking sharpness in his first game as a Capital.

"I didn't play good in Hartford, and I got less ice time as it went on," he said. "Last month was like a vacation. You don't play and you get lazy. It's tough when you only get out there every 10 minutes."

Pettersson, who joined the Whalers at the conclusion of last season to complete the Mike Liut-Greg Millen deal with St. Louis, suffered a groin pull in training camp and never got going.

"I was out a week and I wasn't in shape, but they started me out playing with (Ron) Francis, and I had a bad time," he said. "When they took me off that line, I still had some chances, but I didn't play good. I can't complain. They treated me well and tried to get me going.

"Who knows? Maybe I'll play bad here, too. But I hope to play well. With a few practices, I'll be in better shape, and I think this team will suit me better. These guys try to score, and they work more on puck-handling, which I like."