The Washington Capitals' two Swedish forwards, Bengt Gustafsson and Peter Sundstrom, made their first Capital Centre appearances since the 1985-86 season in Friday's exhibition against the U.S. Olympic team. In each case, the reception was exactly what the player wanted.

Gustafsson was cheered from the moment he stepped onto the ice for the warmup until he concluded a postgame interview while hundreds of fans crowded around. If there was any anger with his decision to stay in Sweden last season, it was not apparent.

"I think people respect my decision to go home to my country and my family," Gustafsson said. "The first couple of days back were a little strange, but now it's almost like I never left. I'm very happy to be here again."

While Gustafsson was stepping off on the right foot, responding to the cheers with a goal and two assists in Washington's 3-2 victory, Sundstrom was making his Centre debut in a Capitals uniform almost without notice. That was fine, too.

Sundstrom is the designated replacement for traded Gaetan Duchesne on the checking line with Bob Gould and Kelly Miller. It is an unenviable task, because Duchesne was among the most popular Capitals and a tenacious defensive player.

So, other than scoring a big goal, which he didn't despite three shots at Olympian Mike Richter, the best thing Sundstrom could have asked was what he produced -- a solid defensive game in which his line kept its opposite numbers off the scoreboard.

If the crowd of 11,336 was not cheering Sundstrom, it was not demanding the return of Duchesne, either. In its own way, that was a very positive note.

"I don't feel I'm replacing anybody, but I understand that people could look at it that way," Sundstrom said. "I know what type of player Duchesne is. We're similar, because the best part of our game is playing good defense.

"I think I have to go out there and do my best. If I do that, everybody should be happy. I can't do any more than that."

Coach Bryan Murray certainly was happy, saying, "Peter is a real hard worker and a good skater. He's probably a step quicker than I thought. He's fit in well on that line; just what we wanted -- a complementary player for Gould and Miller."

Sundstrom made his first appearance in a Washington uniform in Worcester, Mass., on Wednesday, when the Capitals beat the Boston Bruins in overtime, 3-2. Like Gustafsson, he has found his legs slow to respond after taking a break to fly home following Sweden's elimination from the Canada Cup on Sept. 8.

Also like Gustafsson, Sundstrom is delighted to wear a Washington uniform. He spent three years with the New York Rangers, his ice time steadily diminishing, before he went home last year and scored a double -- he helped Bjorkloven take the Elite Division title and Sweden capture its first world championship since 1962.

"I wasn't happy with the way it was in New York, because I wasn't getting much ice time," Sundstrom said. "But I did want to play in the NHL and I hoped some team would pick me up. This year, I have something to prove -- that I can play in this league. Maybe I'm more confident after last year. I'm getting older {26} and I've had more experience. I know it won't be easy, but I think I can do well here."

The knock on Sundstrom in New York was that he was not tough enough. In his first two games, though, he has demonstrated no reluctance to go in the corners or to take a check in order to make a play.

"I like contact," Sundstrom said. "This is a tough game, but I don't mind playing tough, going in the corners and digging the puck out. I'm not going to bang people over the boards. I guess that's what they wanted in New York."

Capitals Notes:

Defenseman Larry Murphy and right wing Mike Gartner, members of the Canadian team that won the Canada Cup, participated in their first workout with Washington yesterday at Mount Vernon. Their presence prompted General Manager David Poile to joke, "This is a great training camp. We keep bringing in new players every day." . . . Left wing Greg Adams (hyperextended elbow) and defenseman Kevin Hatcher (bruised knee) did not skate. They will be examined Monday.