A week ago, when the Washington Capitals were stumbling along at a sub-.500 pace, Coach Bryan Murray noted the key role that ailing Bengt Gustafsson had played in the team's success the previous two seasons.

As one of Gustafsson's contributions, Murray cited the way he had blended with Dave Christian a year ago, when Christian had his most productive NHL season. At the time, Christian was struggling and Murray said, "I'm hoping that when Gus comes back, I'll actually be getting two players back."

Gustafsson is not due to return until Christmas, but Christian has accelerated his part of that schedule. Playing on the same line as Craig Laughlin and Alan Haworth, Christian had three goals and three assists during victories over Chicago, Quebec and the New York Rangers.

In a 5-0 rout of the Black Hawks, Christian made a quick move through traffic to control the puck and set up Laughlin for the only goal of the first 47 minutes. Then he scored to make it 2-0 and precipitate the Hawks' collapse.

Christian had a three-point game in the 9-2 romp at Quebec as the line accounted for four goals. Then, in the third period in New York, Christian deflected Rod Langway's shot past Glen Hanlon for the deciding score of the 2-1 victory.

It made for a banner week for Christian, who had managed only three goals and nine assists in the previous 19 games. That minuscule production had come as a surprise, because Christian had followed up last season's 29-goal, 81-point effort with a fine showing for the United States in the Canada Cup.

"Physically, I've been in good shape, but I haven't been mentally sharp," Christian said. "I think the Canada Cup took a lot out of me. It was a pretty intense month of hockey and then it was a pretty abrupt ending. That game we lost to Sweden (9-2 in the semifinals) was hard to forget.

"There's no question I've missed playing with Gus. We complement each other's game so well. It's not hard playing with someone else; it's just that we play so well together, it has to hurt.

"Locker (Laughlin) and Howie (Haworth) and I are starting to get a feel for each other. You have to learn what each guy does in certain situations and that takes a little time. We've been scrambling a bit, but we just have to work hard and get together better."

After Bob Carpenter and Mike Gartner had provided much of the offense through the first quarter of the season, Murray was delighted to find another line sharing the load.

"Dave is one of the guys who has played very well the last few games after a slow start," Murray said. "When he gets a goal, it seems to give him a lift. He's one of our key players and we need him on a roll for the team to get moving, too."

Pat Riggin, who has a 7-2 career record against Boston, has overcome a bout with flu and will be in the nets for Saturday's 1:15 game here against the Bruins . . . Goalie Al Jensen, who did not play a game in Binghamton after being sent down Monday, has returned to Washington for treatment for back spasms.