VANCOUVER, B.C., OCT. 26 -- Greg Smith is a living, breathing monument to the power of positive thinking. He also is the answer to a variety of trivia questions.

At 32, Smith is the oldest member of the Washington Capitals. He is the most recent Capital to participate in a Stanley Cup final, as a member of the Minnesota North Stars in 1981. He is one of four active players who once skated in the uniform of the California Seals, along with Minnesota's Dennis Maruk and Pittsburgh's Charlie Simmer and Gilles Meloche.

More pertinent to the Capitals' current success, Smith has a plus-nine rating, not only the best on the team but good for a share of the National Hockey League lead with four other players -- Toronto's Al Iafrate and Edmonton's Mark Messier, Jeff Beukeboom and Steve Smith.

Greg Smith has been on the ice for 12 equal-strength Washington goals, at least one in every game, and only three by the opposition, none in the last five contests.

Those statistics are testimony to Smith's newfound confidence and resulting fine play.

Smith provided the saddest story of all the Capitals after their four-overtime loss to the New York Islanders in the playoffs last April. He suffered a fractured kneecap in the second extra period, after hitting a post in the first overtime with a shot that could have ended the game.

There was speculation Smith might retire after that. Instead, he participated in an intensive summer rehabilitation program under Frank Costello's guidance at the University of Maryland and reported to training camp in excellent physical condition.

Still, he figured as no better than the No. 5 defenseman until Kevin Hatcher suffered torn cartilage in his left knee. Then Smith moved in as one of the top four, usually serving as a partner for Rod Langway.

"Greg Smith has played a lot and it's good to know he can handle the extra ice time," said Coach Bryan Murray. "In the past, we tried to be careful with Greg. We figured that if he played 15 or 16 minutes, he could contribute, but beyond that he became a burden.

"Now he's averaging 20 minutes and he's been solid. He's comfortable out there and he's strong. He worked hard this summer and he's back in form."

Smith looks deeper than that hard labor in trying to explain his improved play.

"I feel better mentally," Smith said. "Bryan and the coaching staff have confidence in me and that goes into me and gives me confidence. A lot of times last year I didn't have it.

"Bryan hadn't put me in a position last year where I could show what I could do. That kind of situation really affects my confidence."

As for serving as Langway's partner, Smith said, "It does help playing with Rod. He and I complement each other -- nothing pretty but very efficient. But I also have confidence in my ability to play with a young player like Paul Cavallini.

"When I go out there, I just have the idea that I'm going to make the right play. It's a great feeling."

Smith is a western Canada native, having been raised on a farm in Ponoka, Alberta. Although he is an accomplished rider, he pretended to be bewildered for the benefit of an overbearing guide who led a group of players on a trail ride during the team's recent stay in Lake Placid, N.Y. The guide offered to show the players how to use a lasso. He was so inept, however, that Smith finally abandoned his tenderfoot act and stunned the guide and sent teammates into hysterics by roping goalie Clint Malarchuk by the leg.

There have been many other good moves since.

Capitals Notes:

The Capitals flew here today and face the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday night in the opener of a three-game road trip . . . Center Bob Gould is expected to make his season debut, after suffering a broken foot Oct. 2. "He's close to 100 percent and I'd like to start him and see how he goes," Murray said after today's practice at Mount Vernon . . . Murray said he probably would use Pete Peeters in goal. Peeters has played only one game, the 6-5 loss in Buffalo, when he was bothered by a bruised finger he apparently hurt in the warmup that night. Peeters declined to discuss it, saying, "The last time I talked about something I got chewed out for giving out medical information." . . . This is another of those nights when Greg Adams plays against Greg Adams. Both are British Columbia natives, Washington's Adams from Duncan and Vancouver's from Nelson.