BOSTON, OCT. 7 -- The 14th edition of the Washington Capitals will move into action against the Boston Bruins here Thursday at 7:30 p.m., more confident than ever of accomplishing big things in the National Hockey League.

It is generally conceded around the league that this is the best team to skate for Washington, one capable of finishing first in the Patrick Division and, with a few breaks, grabbing the President's Trophy as No. 1 overall in the regular season.

There is even talk of a Stanley Cup, although that postseason playdown is another world, one that the Capitals in the past have found most inhospitable.

If the Capitals have had problems in April, they have been far more inept in October. The negative statistics during the opening month are something Coach Bryan Murray and his players would like to forget.

The Capitals are 36-79-16 in October and never have been above .500 after three, five, seven, eight or 12 games. Although they have captured their opener five times, they have won the second game just once, in 1981, when it was their only victory in the first 16 games.

"This is our best opportunity to get off to a good start," Murray said. "We're all conscious of our early season problems in previous years. We're in the best physical condition ever coming out of camp, we're looking sharp and we're going to play very well.

"There are no guarantees. But if we somehow have a slow start, I do think it will be because of the other teams, not because we aren't playing up to our best."

The early schedule, heavy on travel because of other Capital Centre commitments and a reluctance to oppose televised baseball, has been a negative factor in the past and could be again, with seven of the first 11 games on the road.

Team captain Rod Langway, weary of trying to explain the repeated early flops, said, "Every year you try to look at it in a positive sense, but if you don't score goals, you start pressing and it goes downhill. We know we can play sound, disciplined hockey. Hopefully, we'll do it the first seven games this time and not wait until January."

Much of the reason for optimism concerns newcomers Clint Malarchuk and Dale Hunter, obtained in the June trade with Quebec in exchange for Alan Haworth, Gaetan Duchesne and a first-round draft pick.

Malarchuk has earned the starting assignment in the net with some superb preseason performances, including a shutout against Hartford on Friday. He has been tough against Boston in the past, posting back-to-back shutouts over the Bruins in 1985.

"I've had good success in that rink and that makes you more confident," Malarchuk said. "You do get more pumped up in certain rinks. But I'm more confident anyway, just playing for the Capitals.

"Warren {Strelow, the goaltender coach} has been a big help. I never had a goalie coach before. I've always had good training camps since I turned pro, but I've never felt so sharp . . . And the defensive system, with so many all-star defensemen out there, makes it easier for me."

This is Malarchuk's second opening-night assignment. A year ago, he led Quebec to a 6-1 triumph over Detroit and went on to play so well, despite the Nordiques' shortcomings, that he was voted to the all-star team for Rendez-Vous 87.

"It's a long season and you don't want to put too much emphasis on the opener," Malarchuk said. "We want to get started right, but it's just one of 80 games and you don't want to build it up too much. There's pressure every game."

Hunter will center Greg Adams and Mike Gartner on Thursday on a line that is expected to produce scoring punch as well as provide a physical presence. The trio most likely will be matched against Boston's intimidators -- Jay Miller, Bill O'Dwyer and Willi Plett.

Adams is recuperating from a hyperextended elbow and the line was together at today's practice for the first time. Murray indicated that Michal Pivonka, who had been Hunter's left wing, would get some time there, especially if he cuts back to three lines during the game. But Murray also said he needed Pivonka to center Lou Franceschetti and Ed Kastelic on the fourth line.

Adams said, "I can shoot just as hard as before; it's just that there's pain. We move our lines around a lot, so I've played with Garts before and I played with Hunts in the preseason. I'm looking forward to it. The line has a little bit of everything. Hunts plays well with the puck, Garts has wheels and I can grind."

Capitals Notes:

Low points of the 13 previous starts: 1-15-2, 2-17-2, 2-8-2, 2-18-5, 5-17-4, 4-16-4, 3-5-7, 1-14-1, 2-6-1, 0-7-0, 6-8-5, 2-4-2 and 7-13-5.