Washington Capital goalie Mike Palmateer, who left Thursday night's loss at Buffalo in the first period with a badly bruised left thumb, left the team yesterday and flew back to Washington last night. Palmateer will be X-rayed this morning and at that time it will be determined how long, if at all, he will be sidelined, according to a team spokesman.

Palmateer left the Buffalo game after stopping a Richie Dunn shot with his stick hand -- minus the stick, and was replaced by Dave Parro, who is still recovering from a dislocated shoulder. Parro is expected to start against the Montreal Canadiens tonight even if Palmateer's swollen left hand has improved.

Wayne Stephenson, injured much of the season after starting 17 games, has rejoined the team in Montreal as a backup.

The Caps received further bad news yesterday when Bengt Gustafsson and Ryan Walter complained of stomach problems that may have been caused by food poisoning. Their status is uncertain for tonight's game, but the Caps said they will call up left winger Errol Rausse if they are not improved this morning. Rausse is playing for Hershey, which is at Adirondack tonight, about a three-hour drive from Montreal.

The Caps (19-23-14), fighting for a Stanley Cup playoff spot, have never beaten the Canadiens in 14 visits to the Forum. Palmateer has been the team's top goaltender, compiling an 11-11-8 record, with a 3.72 goals-against average in 31 starts this season.

Parro, who has started 11 games, is 4-4-4-1 with a 2.83 average since joining the team. And Stephenson is 4-6-5 while allowing 3.81 goals per game.

Injuries have plagued the Capitals all season, especially the goalkeepers.