:Bob Carpenter never has missed a game -- regular season or Stanley Cup playoffs -- since he joined the Washington Capitals in 1981.

That remarkable streak is in jeopardy as the Capitals prepare for Wednesday's playoff opener against the New York Islanders, but nobody is ruling out Carpenter's participation in Game 1 of the best-of-five series.

Carpenter, injured during Sunday's 5-3 loss at Philadelphia, was examined yesterday and was found to have a hyperextended knee. He is undergoing heat treatment, and when the knee loosens up, he can start skating. That could be today, but considering the team's recent run of bad luck, nobody wants to be overly optimistic.

Officially, Carpenter is listed in the same category as Mike Gartner, who skated yesterday for the first time since knee surgery March 28 and proclaimed himself satisfied. Both are considered doubtful for Games 1 and 2, Wednesday and Thursday at Capital Centre, and probable for the third and fourth contests, Saturday and Sunday at Nassau Coliseum.

As insurance in the event that neither is ready, the Capitals called up center David Jensen from Binghamton.

Coach Bryan Murray said goalie Pete Peeters most likely would start Wednesday's opener, but Al Jensen is healthy after a session of back spasms and would be ready when needed.

"Pete is the logical guy to start the first game, but having Al available helps us a great deal," Murray said.

There was considerable laughter along with a few practical jokes during the Capitals' practice at Mount Vernon yesterday, as the players rid themselves of the tension built up by the close race with Philadelphia for the Patrick Division title.

When a team meeting was delayed 40 minutes while the coaches conferred, a player joked: "They're raffling off the lines. The first name out of the hat is the center."

Several players wrestled on the ice, and Dwight Schofield, who last played March 29, gave a convincing demonstration of his slap shot's power by shattering a half-inch section of plexiglass.

As Gartner skated onto the ice, he was greeted by Larry Murphy's shout, "Who's the new guy?"

Things were more serious when Murray appeared, however. Murray held several meetings with groups of players, the longest occupying the six defensemen.

While the ranks of the forwards have been depleted by injuries, the defense has been left somewhat shellshocked by opposing goals. The two stalwarts, Rod Langway and Scott Stevens, have not been immune.

Langway has been on the ice for 11 opposition equal-strength goals in the last five games, a figure equal to the previous 18 contests.

Stevens has been on for 17 in the last eight games, the same total as the previous 17 games.

"Sure, it's a concern," Murray said. "Our top players have to play like top players and the role players have to play like role players. We've been overhandling the puck in too many situations.

"They the defensemen say the forecheckers have been putting a lot of pressure on them. I say they've been giving the other team too many second chances to keep the puck in the zone. I think our defensive corps ranks with the top in the league, but some nights they're not moving the puck the way I expect."

For the first time all season, the players' colored practice jerseys bore no significance to upcoming line and defense pairings.

"It's going to be mix and match for a little while," Murray said. "I'll try to settle on something by tomorrow. Today I just wanted to spend some time talking about the Islanders, and about us, and how some individuals have to play.

"I know there is disappointment about Sunday's game, but now we have to get ready for the Islanders. We've lost the last three years, but I think we have an excellent chance to get by them this time."

That chance would be enhanced if Gartner could get back in the lineup. He skated at reduced speed and took some turns without forcing things yesterday.

"I had good strength, but I didn't push it too hard," Gartner said. "I'll try a little more each day. I'm happy I didn't feel any sharp pain when I skated or turned. That's what I was afraid of."

Gartner watched the loss to the Flyers on television and said, "I was very disappointed, like everybody. I'm sure I had a more helpless feeling watching it from my living-room couch."

David Jensen will join the Capitals today and might play Wednesday. The major question is his game sharpness, since he missed Binghamton's last seven games with strained ligaments in his wrist.

Jensen, who played five games for Washington in November, had 17 goals and 14 assists in 41 games with the Whalers of the American Hockey League.

While the Capitals were counting noses -- and knees -- the Islanders conducted an optional skate after losing, 9-7, at New Jersey Sunday.

Coach Al Arbour said he would announce his starting goaltender today and there was speculation that for the first time in the 1980s, it would not be Bill Smith, who yielded those nine goals to the Devils but has ruined the Capitals the last three seasons. Kelly Hrudey, 3-5 lifetime against Washington, is expected to be Arbour's pick.

Alan Haworth finished at plus-36 to succeed Langway as the Capitals' Emery Edge winner. The league leader was Mark Howe of Philadelphia at plus-85 . . . The Islanders are charging $36, $30 and $24 for playoff tickets. Capital Centre prices are $21, $19 and $15 . . . Goalie Bob Mason has won nine straight games for Binghamton, a club record. He finished the regular season 20-11-2, with a 3.90 goals-against average.