When the Washington Capitals tossed defenseman Robert Picard into the pressure cooker of a Quebec City exhibition game two weeks ago, general manager Max McNab commented that Picard would soon face other pressure contests - "his first NHL game, his first game against the Canadians, his first game in Montreal."

As a result of a back injury suffered when he was decked by Quebec's Peter Driscoll, Picard on Monday night will be confronted with all three of those pressure games in one. The Montreal native, a junior hockey star in the Forum for the Blue-Blanc-Rouge, will make his NHL debut in that storied building when the Capitals battle the Canadiens (WTOP-1500 at 8 p.m.)

"I feel good about finally playing," Picard said today. "But playing in Montreal will be harder than anything else. People will be expecting big things from me. I'll try to forget all about it and play the best I can.

"I've been waiting for that game since I was 12 or 13, when I started thinking about a pro career. Sure, I've had dreams about being a big star in my first game, but it's no big deal to be one of the great ones if your team loses, 10-0. I want to help the team the best way I can, be part of the team. It takes six guys on the ice, 20 guys to play the games."

Picard figures he is at "90 to 95 per cent of my shape. I've only had four days back on skates, after being off nine days. Everything was good at this practice today, though, so I think I'm ready."

Coach Tom McVie has big plans for Picard's future, but Monday night all he asks is "a good, steady defensive game." He's playing in the rink where he played junior and there will be a lot of factors influencing his play, so I'll be satisfied if he just plays a shift with Bryan Watson and tries to keep Montreal from scoring goals.

"He isn't superman. If we're counting on a 20-year-old kid to lead us out of the wilderness, then we're in trouble.I do expect a lot of positive things, though, and eventually he'll play every other shift, both left and right sides."

Picard was not pleased to sit out the Capital's first three games with that strained back muscle, but he watched his new team from the stands and thinks he learned a few things.

"It was a good and bad thing at the same time," Picard said. "I watched very closely and I know now how my own players play. If something happens, I'll know what they do. I was able to check all the players."

Monday's contest here begins, a four-game road trip for the Capitals, who visit Atlanta Wednesday, Colorado Friday and Minnesota Saturday.