On Saturday, after Bob Sirois had scored two goals for the second straight game, he was expounding for media inquisitors when teammate Pierre Bouchard walked up and shone a flashlight on his face.

"He's in the spotlight," said Bouchard, whose sense of humor is dimmed only when he loses his wallet.

Sirois was under another light yesterday this one attached to an X-ray machine. As evidence of the Washington Capitals' changing fortunes, the report was negative on the rib that was hammered Sunday by the New York Islanders' Denis Potvin.

"It's a bad bruise," Sirois said as he wandered into trainer Gump Embro's salon for sore skaters, looking for heat treatment, "He got me on the first shift of the game and I tried to play, but it really hurt. He came up to me later and said he was sorry, that he meant to hit my stick."

Three weeks ago, Coach Gary Green would not have blinked if Sirois had been incapacitated. Yesterday, however, Green was relieved that there was no broken bone and that Sirois was likely to be ready for the Boston Bruins' visit on Wednesday.

"Becuase of his play the last three weeks, he is not a guy we can afford to lose," Green said. "He is a key person for us. His ability to play both sides is insturmental.I've gotten my eyes opened up the last few weeks. I didn't know how good he could be.

"He 's not afraid to take a check along the boards to get the puck out and I'm impressed by his defensive play as well as his offensive play. He's very disciplined positonally and he's got the experience, which we're generally lacking on such a young club."

Sirois, a 29-goal scorer last year, was out with a back injury when Green replaced Danny Belisle in November. He played two games, aggravated the injury and did not return until January, following a two-game tuneup in Hershey.

For a long time, Sirois found himself on the bench. Finally, in early February, he and Green discussed the situation. Ever since, Sirois has been in seventh heaven, recording seven goals, seven assists and a plus-seven raring in his last 16 games.

"He thought he could just step back in after his injury," Green said. "He couldn't, but he has worked hard to get it back.He's showing me something now I questioned whether he had a monthor a month and a half ago."

"I play hard for every coach," Sirois said, "but when I came back from my injury he had never seen me play and he wasn't using me. He told me why I wasn't playing, because he didn't think I was in shape, and I told him why I thought I should play. I'm certainly not complaining the way things have worked out."