When the Washington Capitals took a tour of the White House yesterday, Bob Carpenter hobbled from room to room on a sore right ankle. It is one of several injuries that have helped to make this a forgettable season for the 22-year-old whose 53 goals a year ago were the most ever achieved by a U.S.-born player in the NHL.

Three times Carpenter has been forced to leave games early, as he has been bedeviled by a torn back muscle, a severely bruised hand and a pinched nerve in the neck. The cumulative effect has reduced his goal production thus far to eight. After 33 games last season, he had 26.

Carpenter is uncertain whether the injuries are cause or effect -- whether the state of his body is related to the state of his mind. Normally an aggressive checker, Carpenter has been hitting less and hit more, a condition he traces to his lack of mental preparation for the season while negotiating what became a four-year, $1.3 million contract.

"It was a long summer and a difficult summer," Carpenter said. "I wouldn't want to go through that again. They say that's business, but if that's the case, I don't think I want to be a businessman. I'll be a professional fisherman instead.

"When a season starts off downhill, it's hard to turn it around. I wasn't prepared for the start of the season. You can't just step into training camp and be ready.

"I didn't train the normal way. Before, I came down here a month before the season, but I couldn't do that this year. My only training was with the Bruins, and I felt uncomfortable with them as the season got nearer. I didn't know where I'd be. My mind was everywhere else but prepared to play.

"Some games you're a step behind, and you have to find the right feeling to play the game. So far it's been hard. I have been hurt, and a slash or a shot on the foot you can't do anything about, but a lot of bumps and bruises come from not being in the game. That may have been some of my problem."

Cross-checked by the aluminum stick of Philadelphia's Dave Poulin in the first exhibition game, Carpenter quickly found himself uncomfortable physically as well as mentally, with noticeable consequences on the ice.

The one saving factor, however, has been the team's overall success, which has tended to minimize Carpenter's difficulties. Had he been tabbed as the cause of a sorry start, obviously the pressure would be enormous. Instead, he has maintained a remarkably positive attitude, in contrast to his depression of two years ago, when a sore shoulder helped limit him to two goals in the first 22 games.

"The team doing so well has made it a lot easier for me," Carpenter said. "Everybody is playing really well, and that takes a lot of pressure off me."

Coach Bryan Murray, though upset by some of Carpenter's passive play and off-target passes, has been able to exercise patience, as he is confident that things will turn around sooner or later. He says he has seen signs of such a turnabout in recent games.

"The game in Quebec (a 7-5 victory on Sunday), Bobby showed real good effort," said Murray, whose left eye has been purpled by a run-in with a door. "The ankle injury forced me to put him on the left side, and I liked his work habits better. He held on to the puck and did more things, and the big goal he scored certainly helped.

"Last night (a 4-3 triumph over Quebec at Capital Centre on Thursday), I started him at left wing, but after he did some good things, I moved him back to center. I'd still like to see him take chances more in the offensive end, but I think that will come as he gets his confidence back."

Carpenter also believes he has been more into the game recently, and he hopes he is ready to break loose, possibly tonight at Capital Centre against the Chicago Black Hawks, a team he has exploited for 12 goals in 14 games.

"Things seem to be happening more, and I've been getting some quality chances," Carpenter said. "Maybe they'll start going in. Last year, when things were going my way, I'm sure that two of those shots from last night would have been in."

So far, very little has been going Carpenter's way. During the 5-2 victory over Edmonton here last month, he was stung by a bee while sitting on the bench and later drew a penalty for using an illegal stick.

In the third period of the 5-2 triumph at Edmonton last week, he was called for hooking and, when he protested to referee Ron Hoggarth, was assessed an additional minor for unsportsmanlike conduct.

"I know it can't go on like this," Carpenter said. "I'm going to keep working hard, and I hope I have a great second half." Canadiens 7, Devils 3

Kjell Dahlin, the NHL's highest-scoring rookie, got his 18th and 19th goals and Chris Nilan also scored twice to lead Montreal at New Jersey.

Mats Naslund, the league's No. 2 point scorer with 61, set up three Canadiens goals.

The victory was Montreal rookie goalie Patrick Roy's sixth in his last seven starts. It was Devils goalie Chico Resch's fifth straight defeat. Montreal is 4-1-1 in its last six games and New Jersey has lost seven of its last eight games. Flyers 6, Canucks 1

Tim Kerr scored three goals as visiting Philadelphia overpowered Vancouver before a rare sellout crowd of 16,553 at Pacific Coliseum. Two of Kerr's goals -- he has 34 on the season -- came on power plays.