The Washington Capitals, off to a 4-2 start, claim that history is for losers and this season they have the confidence of winners.

They could go a long way toward proving that contention by winning Thursday night, because that game is in Philadelphia, where Washington has a history of failure.

Over the past three seasons, the Capitals are winless in 10 visits to the Spectrum. They haven't had much luck against the Flyers anywhere, for that matter, posting a 4-15-2 record. Those figures are the major reason Philadelphia has finished first in the Patrick Division the past three seasons, with Washington second. Another record worth noting -- the Capitals never have won the seventh game of a season in 13 previous tries.

The Flyers are vulnerable right now, with right wing Tim Kerr still rehabilitating his shoulder, following repeat surgery, and goalie Ron Hextall serving the seventh game of an eight-game suspension for his playoff assault on Edmonton's Kent Nilsson.

The Capitals think they can win, not because of Philadelphia's problems, but because they are playing superb hockey. Washington has won three in a row, including two straight come-from-behind victories over the New York Rangers, and that kind of success in October is something new for long-suffering fans of the Capitals.

"We've made great strides in overall team play and team depth," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "This is a different club with a different mentality than we've had here.

"We really believed in New York that we could come back, and you build on that type of thing. The guys look around the room and they think, 'Hey, if I don't do it, somebody else will.' There's not so much pressure on a few guys to score.

"If we beat Philly, it would be another big confidence booster. We hope we can go into their building and play our game, which is a hard-working, good-checking game. If we play as hard as we have and get our lines going, we should play a real good game. They'll have to play well to counter us."

Dave Christian, the hero of Monday's 4-2 victory over the Rangers, hopes the seventh-game reminder will be the club's last history lesson.

"Things have been different this year right from the start of training camp," Christian said. "We haven't dwelled on the past. Training camp was much better, without the scrimmaging we had before, and the whole outlook was on the future. That really helped us."

As far as visiting the Spectrum goes, the key seems to be surviving the Flyers' early penchant for goon tactics and then turning the vocal crowd into a plus.

"We go in there sometimes in a trance, waiting for something to happen instead of making it happen," said winger Lou Franceschetti. "It can be 3-0 or 4-0 before you wake up. Their style is to cause havoc in the first period, but if you come out even or better, they have to play hockey.

"They still think they have a hex over us, but we've improved and we'll go in there knowing everybody is going to give his best. The way we've played the last three games, the determination is there through the whole game."

Defenseman Larry Murphy said, "In the past, basically we didn't play well in Philly. We have to play well, that's all. There's no magic secret; just play well."

Two newcomers being counted on heavily for the big games are center Dale Hunter and goaltender Clint Malarchuk. Neither is likely to be concerned about either the Flyers or the fans.

"I like to play in Philadelphia," Hunter said. "They always have a good team and they're always prepared. You have to play a good game or they'll beat you. It's a noisy crowd, but not as bad as Chicago. And you can shut them up if you play well."

Malarchuk, who has won four in a row and is scheduled to start Thursday, said, "I like that rink. That crowd is the greatest. Players like it when the crowd's abusive."

Of the Flyers' habit of bumping the goalie after a save, Malarchuk said, "I laugh at that stuff."

Capitals Notes:

Both center Bob Gould and defenseman Kevin Hatcher skated in yesterday's practice at Mount Vernon. Gould's broken foot will be X-rayed today and, if there is no problem, he will play Thursday. Hatcher is still a week away.