LAKE PLACID, N.Y., OCT. 1 -- A year ago, if Mike Ridley failed to convert a good scoring opportunity early in a game, it was a fair bet his play would deteriorate the rest of the night. A perfectionist, he magnified the impact of every mistake and brooded about it.

"Mike Ridley's biggest enemy was himself," said Bryan Murray, the coach of the Washington Capitals who tried so often to persuade Ridley to be satisfied with simply making a positive contribution. "He put such demands on himself that it became impossible for him to be successful."

So, while other Capitals worked hard this summer to improve their physical well-being or mental self-esteem, Ridley concentrated on convincing himself he could fill an important role without matching Wayne Gretzky's statistics.

"I sat down and thought about it in the summer," Ridley said. "I'd always been that way, even in junior. I want to do so well that I get down on myself when everything isn't just right.

"So far, I'm just practicing taking things in stride. It seems to be working. The game against Boston, I was just so-so, but I didn't get mad. I've tried to convince myself that there are 20 guys out there, not just me, and it's a long season.

"I would like to do well every night. But I know I went overboard some times. I'd score one goal and I'd be upset because I didn't get two. Or I'd play good defense, but I wouldn't score, so I wasn't satisfied. I've tried to keep from getting that attitude this year."

Nobody is wishing Ridley more success on his excursion into the power of positive thinking than Murray, who sees a lot of potential in the forward obtained from the New York Rangers in the Bobby Carpenter trade on New Year's Day.

"Mike seems to feel good about himself," Murray said. "He got married this summer and he's in a better frame of mind. He's a step quicker and he should play fresher than last year.

"I'm sure he feels good about playing with {Bengt} Gustafsson and {Dave} Christian. That's a fine line and Mike should get a lot of chances. Gus is loose enough to take the pressure off, too."

Actually, Ridley feels good about a number of things. Certainly, the assignment with Gustafsson and Christian is a plum. When Dale Hunter was obtained from Quebec and Gustafsson returned from Sweden, Ridley suddenly looked like the fourth-line center.

But the Capitals' principal weakness has been on the left side and Murray decided that the team would benefit if Ridley and Michal Pivonka could make the shift from the center spot to left wing. In each case, it is actually a return to a familiar position.

"I played left wing in both junior and college," Ridley said. "In tier two junior, they had a pretty good center, so they put me on the wing. Then in college, I was mainly a left wing, because they had a pretty good center on the top line, although I double-shifted as the fourth-line center.

"I tried out for the Rangers {in September 1985} as a left wing, but I was bigger {6 feet 1, 200 pounds} than the other guys, so they moved me to center. They were concerned about having so many small centers like {Mike} Rogers, {Mark} Pavelich and {Pierre} Larouche."

As a rookie center, Ridley led the Rangers in scoring with 65 points. Last year, he totaled 70, with 31 goals. This season, with Gustafsson and Christian for partners, he should produce even more, although in line with reducing the self-pressure, he has established no personal goals.

"It's been good for me playing with Gus and Davy," Ridley said. "They don't mind if you cut in. All three of us have played center and we know that the main thing to remember is the first guy back stays down low. We're experienced in that and we're working well together."

Completing Ridley's peace of mind is a new contract. When Ridley came to Washington, he claimed that Phil Esposito, the Rangers' general manager, reneged on a promise to boost Ridley's $85,000-a-year salary by more than 100 percent.

"My new contract is a little different from the one Esposito promised me, but I'm happy with it," Ridley said. "I was unhappy with Esposito, the way he did that, but after what I've seen him do to other guys since then, I know it wasn't just me."