The big difference between departed goalie Bob Mason, a free agent who went to Chicago, and incoming goalie Clint Malarchuk, obtained in the offseason from Quebec, is that Malarchuk, very definitely, is happy to be a Washington Capital.

"I was ecstatic about the trade," Malarchuk said yesterday between the Capitals' two-a-day training camp workouts at Mount Vernon. "Coming from western Canada, being in Quebec City, which is French, you have the problem of language. It's difficult, really difficult. Now, I'm happier."

Malarchuk, 26, who came to the Capitals with center Dale Hunter in exchange for Gaetan Duchesne, Alan Haworth and a first-round draft choice, noted the irony of feeling more at home in a different country than his own. What's more, he not only understands the language but also is pleased with the fact that most of the talk so far has been about techniques of goaltending.

"I've never had a goaltender coach in my life," said Malarchuk, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound standup goalie with a crew cut. "My brother before me, he was a goaltender. He helped me a lot when I was a kid." That was Garth Malarchuk, who was drafted as an amateur by the Capitals in their first year, but only played in the minor leagues.

Now a student of goaltender coach Warren Strelow, Clint Malarchuk said, "I'm a better goalie than I was two, three days ago. And I'm going to be better a week from now. I have so much enthusiasm toward him.

"I think I've been blessed with a certain amount of natural talent because I've had to do everything on my own. Without any coaching, I've always been trying and figuring, experimenting. You talk two seconds with Warren and he tells you what you're doing wrong and what you're doing right, and if you're doing something wrong he tells you how to correct it. It's great. You don't struggle then. It's such a good feeling that you've got a little help, somebody you can talk to. I just feel so much better with him around."

He's learning, too, from an old friend, incumbent goalie Pete Peeters. Malarchuk isn't expected to move Peeters aside, but to share goaltending duties.

"This is the best I've ever seen Pete Peeters look," Coach Bryan Murray said yesterday. "Seriously, he's come to camp -- I don't know how much he's done during the summer -- but he's obviously done an awful lot. Warren has made this point on a daily basis, Pete has worked so hard, he looks so sharp right now that he's ready to play. And this camp is designed so that our goaltenders will get a lot of work. Pete has just been fabulous to this point."

Without question, Peeters is as enthusiastic coming into this season as Malarchuk is. Each seems to like the idea of becoming teammates. They've known each other six years, skated one summer together in Edmonton, Alberta, getting in shape and used to meet occasionally after NHL games.

"We do get along very well," said Malarchuk, "and I have a lot of respect for him. He's a bundle of knowledge and we've been helping each other, which is nice. We were both saying last night -- last night we went for dinner -- that when we heard about the trade we were looking forward to training camp and playing together because we've always gotten along and we play similar styles, too. We agree on a lot of things. You know how you feel comfortable with certain guys? That's the way we are together. So I think that's going to be very positive."

Malarchuk was born in Grande Prairie, Alberta, where his father played senior hockey. His family moved south to Edmonton when he was 6, a year after he had started playing organized hockey. He grew up and went to high school in the bigger city, although he returned to Grande Prairie each summer until he was 18 to work on a dairy farm. Now he lives in Calgary, Alberta -- he'd been working his way south gradually until his trade to Washington.

Murray said Malarchuk will split time with Peeters in training camp, exhibition games and early season games. "In all probability," Murray said, he'd decide on the No. 1 goalie at that point. "But that's not a priority now. I feel we have two guys who can play well in the National Hockey League."

Malarchuk, who had a 3.40 goals-against average in 54 games last season, is just coming into what should be his prime, according to Murray. The coach also likes Malarchuk's attitude.

"He's willing, as Peeters is willing to do, to take all the ice time we've made available to him, and work extremely hard during those sessions," said Murray. "He has probably better quickness than I thought he had -- I thought he was more a position, technical-type goalie. I thought he played the angles very well. He made you beat him with a shot rather than give you a lot of net to shoot at. Fundamentally very sound. But he is very, very quick as well. I'm very, very happy with what I've seen."

"Pete's a good goalie," said Malarchuk. "I think I'm a good goalie. It's a plus for the team. I think Pete and I have to have the attitude that it's like a bullpen in baseball, or a pitching team. We have to think of ourselves as a team of goalies, and the better our team of goalies, the better our team is going to be."