Defenseman Kevin Hatcher, in the latest twist to the mystery of his swollen left knee, has been scheduled for arthroscopic surgery today.

Regardless of the results, the Washington Capitals defenseman is expected to be out of action for at least two weeks. Since the team opens its season at Boston Thursday, the timing is undesirable, to say the least.

"We had been optimistic that he'd be skating with us in practice today and starting the year," said Coach Bryan Murray. "Obviously, he won't be starting the year with us. We were under the impression that a bruise on the inside of the knee caused the swelling. Now we'll have to wait and see.

"It's especially disappointing, because Kevin looked so sharp. He had a good Canada Cup, but now he's getting behind."

General Manager David Poile said, "It means two to three weeks any time you go under the arthroscope. I would hope it won't exceed the maximum. Other than that, considering what's gone on so far, I'd rather not say any more."

Poile did say that no decision regarding the status of Paul Cavallini or Tony Kellin, the candidates for the role of sixth defenseman in Hatcher's absence, would be made until the results of Hatcher's surgery are known.

Greg Smith, who has served as Rod Langway's partner in the past, most likely will open the season in that capacity. Scott Stevens and Larry Murphy figure to be the other main pair. Garry Galley will see limited duty with either Kellin or Cavallini.

Hatcher twisted the knee Sept. 22 and the swelling did not subside for 10 days, an unusually long stretch. When Hatcher was examined Friday, the knee was found to have a full range of motion and he was told to skate by himself Saturday and Sunday, then join the team in a full practice yesterday.

Hatcher rode a stationary bike for 20 minutes Friday and noticed a bit of swelling. Then he needed only a five-minute skate on Saturday to realize that something was wrong.

"I've run the range of emotion," Hatcher said. "When I called home last Wednesday, I told them I thought something would have to be done, because it had bothered me so long.

"Then on Thursday and Friday it got so much better that I was really happy. It felt really good on Friday, but I guess when you're lying in bed and doing nothing, it's going to get better.

"After I rode the bike, I had a good upper-body workout and went home. There was a little bit of swelling, but nothing much. Then as soon as I stepped on the ice Saturday, it felt weak and I was afraid to go around corners or put weight on the inside of the knee. I was just out there five minutes and I got off.

"Sunday morning it was swollen up and it hurt the same way it had before. It's hard to say what happens. It doesn't hurt that bad, but whatever it is pops out. It stiffens up when I walk and it feels like there's water underneath."

While Hatcher was preparing for surgery, center Bob Gould was hobbling around on crutches, wondering when the pain in his fractured right foot would subside sufficiently to pad his skate and take to the ice.

The only good news in the injury department involved winger Greg Adams, whose hyperextended right elbow has healed enough for him to be able to dress Thursday.

"Greg shot the puck a lot better and it's improved even though it's still sore," Murray said. "To be missing Gould, Kevin and possibly Adams at the start is very disappointing after having almost an injury-free camp."

The Capitals had shunned the usual training-camp scrimmages, played fewer exhibitions than any other NHL team (seven) and concentrated on conditioning and systems work.

Each of the injuries was a bit of a freak. Hatcher felt a twinge in his knee making a simple turn in a practice session. Gould suffered a hairline fracture when linemate Kelly Miller's pass struck him en route to target Peter Sundstrom. Adams bounced off U.S. Olympian Scott Young while finishing a check and banged his elbow against the boards.

To compensate for Gould's absence on the checking line, Murray yesterday shifted Kelly Miller to center and installed Craig Laughlin at Miller's spot on right wing. Sundstrom remains on the left side.