Simple logic says it is easier to score with the puck than without it, which make the 60-odd faceoffs that determine possession a key part of any hockey game.

Since three of the Washington Capitals' four centers were wingers until last season, handling faceoffs only when a center was booted out of the circle, it was no surprise when most of the early-season draws wound up on opponents' sticks.

A lot of diligent after-practice concentration on the subject seems to be paying off for the Capitals, however, with the most recent evidence the 43-20 margin by which Washington dominated the faceoffs in Wednesday's 3-0 victory over the New York Rangers.

Not surprisingly, the big winner was Bob Carpenter, a lifelong center except for an occasional assignment on left wing. Carpenter, with forearms suitable for woodchopping, won 15 of 19.

Somewhat surprising, however, were the achievements of Alan Haworth and Bob Gould, relative novices in the business of outthinking puck-dropping linesmen and outmuscling quick-wristed opponents. Haworth, the Capitals' leading scorer, won six of seven; Gould took 10 of 13.

"At the beginning, the faceoffs were a heck of a problem for me," Haworth said. "I didn't win 20 percent my first 10 games. But now I'm doing what I used to do in junior (when he was a center) and I know more about the other players, so the past two weeks I've done pretty well.

"Faceoffs are such a big part of the game. If there are 60 faceoffs in a game and you win 40, that's 20 more times you have possession of the puck and 20 more plays you can start. In the offensive zone, if you win it, you can get a shot off. If you lose it, they get a shot off."

Coach Bryan Murray's overall strategy has a definite assignment for each player on the ice, depending on the location of the faceoff. Obviously, there is greater concern if the puck is dropped near one of the goals, since it takes a mere flick of a wrist to put it in the net.

"We try very hard, win or lose the draw, to let everybody know what to do," Murray said. "Losing the draw is not the worst thing if you are able to react quickly.

"But faceoffs mean possession time and a chance to do something. If the faceoff is in your zone and the other team sets up a pick, if they win the draw, they can get a pretty good scoring chance. Winning a big percentage of the draws is important to winning the game.

"It's a skill area and there's technique involved, but strength is also a factor. A big, strong guy has a good chance to beat a small, quick guy. It takes time to become a good faceoff man, and we have talked about it a great deal and encouraged them to work on it at the end of practice.

"It's also a matter of talking to the linesmen. We were putting our sticks down too early before, but in the Ranger game we got that straightened out and we put them down last. Obviously, it made a bit of a difference."

According to Rule 52 of the NHL bylaws, the visiting player must place his stick in the white area of the faceoff circle before the home player, but linesmen enforce that regulation in widely differing ways.

"A lot of times, the other guy puts his stick down first, but then when I put my stick down, he moves it," said Bengt Gustafsson, one of the Capitals' better faceoff men. "If the puck is dropped then, he gets an advantage. The linesmen wouldn't let them do it yesterday (Wednesday), so it was better.

"Most of it is concentration. Everybody is so good on faceoffs, a tenth of a second makes a difference . . . "

Doug Jarvis used to be the Capitals' resident faceoff expert, in large part because he had made a close study of opponents and linesmen. Now that Jarvis has been traded to Hartford, Murray considers Carpenter the club's best.

"Bobby has strong forearms and strong hands and he also has quickness," Murray said. "I hope he'll become our front-and-center guy in that area. In critical situations in critical games, you want to be able to call on one guy who most of the time can win that key faceoff. In those situations, too, you'll want to have another faceoff man out there, just in case the first guy is chased."