When Bryan Watson played for the Detroit Red Wings in the mid-1960s, teammates Gordie Howe and Andy Bathgate dubbed him "Bugsy," because he was constantly bugging people.

Watson is a Capital now, older and allegedly wiser, but he is still bugging folks. His most recent targets, during Monday night's 5-1 loss at Montreal, could quality as big game - Canadien coach Scotty Bowman, defensemen Larry Robinson and Serge Savard and center Dough Risebrough.

Watson said Bowman "was laughing at us from behind the bench."

"Maybe it's good that he rubbed our nose in it. You know, these things have a way of evening out."

Watson could be in the old hockey players' home by the time the Capitals even a series in which they now stand 0-20, but he succeeded in diluting the Canadiens' mug of victory cheer with his harassing tactics.

"Watson has always been a bit of a loudmouth and a trouble maker." Bowman said yesterday. He denied Watson's allegations, saying: "You'll never see me laughing at anybody.

"What happened was he came by the bench yelling at me, telling me I'd come a long way from Peterborough or something. I don't talk to the opposition. I just turned away.

But later he came back and was yakking at Robinson and Savard. I told him, 'Bryan, save your breath and use it for more stops and starts.'

"He's got a lot of spunk, and maybe it wears off on the team, but when you're the opposition sometimes you get fed up with it I'd like to have him on my team, but when he's on the other team I don't like him."

Risebrough doesn't like Watson much, either, particularly since he is $150 poorer as a result of Monday's shenanigans.

The Capitals' Bill Riley and the Canadiens' Peirre Bouchard belted each other more or less legally from one end of the ice to the other, then Bouchard whacked Riley with his stick and the two paired off.

Before they could swing, Risenbrough attacked Riley. Watson promptly jumped on him. All thje participants except Watson received minor penalties.

Later, Watson hauled Risebrough down, again escaping a penalty. When Risebrough complained, refree Gregg Madil bounced him for unsportsmanship conduct. Then, after the game, Risebrough's renewed protests brought two misconduct penalties and the automatic fines.

So the Canadiens, although remaining unbeaten, were not sorry to see Watson and the Capitals leave town.

"We don't play them until February, and I'm glad," Bowman said. "You have to get your club up for them or they'll give you trouble.

"The Caps are a hard-working team and we have to outwork them. We can't let down. They gave us a tough game in Washington and we were ready for them this time."

The Capitals are not unhappy about their long absence from the Canadien schedule, either. Tonight in Atlanta (WTOP-1500 at 8) they face a team with a weakness or two, although past results would indicate Washington has had trouble diagnosing them.

Of 12 meetings, the Flames have won 10, with another tied. In Atlanta's Omni, the ledger reads 600. In the last five trips to Atlanta the Flames have outscored the Capitals by 27-4.