It was exactly 37 days ago that Rod Langway, the captain of the Washington Capitals, suggested his teammates look in the mirror, rather than seek others to blame for mediocre performances in which the club had won only one of nine games.

Apparently, everyone took a good look. Since that dressing-down, in which Langway spared no one -- not even himself -- the Capitals have gone 15-2-2 and surged into first place in the Patrick Division.

No player has worked harder or achieved more than the seemingly tireless Langway. Over those 19 games, he has a remarkable plus-22 rating -- on the ice for 35 equal-strength goals by Washington, only 13 by the opposition.

Today at Capital Centre at 1:30, Langway can be expected to find a reserve of strength somewhere and put out even greater effort. The Capitals' opponents are the Boston Bruins, Langway's boyhood idols. They are led by Ray Bourque, the No. 1 challenger for the Norris Trophy Langway has earned the last two seasons as the NHL's best defenseman.

If Langway has been a dominating force of late, so has Bourque. He has four goals and 12 assists in the last 10 games, of which the Bruins have lost only two.

In his sixth NHL season, Bourque already has passed the 400-point mark. He has been a postseason all-star every year, making the first team three times and the second team twice.

Bourque, who celebrated his 24th birthday Friday, leads the Bruins in scoring with 47 points, tops the NHL in shots with 184, has the league's longest string of consecutive games with an assist, 10, and amassed a 17-game scoring streak.

"I'm a great fan of the Bruins -- coming from Massachusetts, I have been all my life," Langway said. "This game will be on back home and all my friends and family will be watching. It's a big thing to me.

"The Bruins wouldn't be anything without Ray Bourque. He's a great hockey player, a superstar in his own right. He's been an all-star every year he's been in the league; that tells it all."

Coach Bryan Murray had abundant praise for Bourque and the Bruins, too. "They're really playing well, better than they were earlier," Murray said. "If they're healthy, they have a lot of talent to be a good club and I'm sure they will be by the end of the season.

"Bourque is a top defenseman. He's right up there, no question. If I had a selection, I'd pick him right after Rod. He's playing a lot, in every situation. People talk about us overworking Rod, but Bourque plays as much or more."

If Bourque comes close to matching Langway as a defenseman, neither he nor anyone else can compare with Langway's abilities as a leader. Murray acknowledged that Langway's post-Thanksgiving tirade against creeping negativism was a key factor in the team's turnabout.

"There were a number of things that turned it around," Murray said. "We made roster changes, and the players realized we weren't fooling around. Getting Gaetan (Duchesne) back, and getting Gus (Bengt Gustafsson) back helped, too. And Pat Riggin had a couple of big games to get us going.

"But Rod being upset certainly was part of it. What he said was a repetition of what was said in team meetings, but coming from Rod rather than from management, maybe some guys took a hard look.

"Since then, we've forgotten about individual goals and we've gotten back to being a responsible hockey team."

The players, by fulfilling the requirements Murray stipulated for three of four earlier reward segments, already have earned jackets, chairs and a dinner-theater night with their wives. They are in the fourth game of a 12-game segment that calls for 16 points; having won the first three, they are on the way toward more, as yet unspecified, goodies.

The reward everyone wants, of course, is a first-place finish in the Patrick Division, which would ensure home-ice advantage for the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"I'd like to see the Flyers and Islanders play in the first round," Murray said. "I'd also like to have home ice, because I think we've progressed to where it would be a benefit, rather than the negative it seemed last year."

At Boston Dec. 1, the Capitals rallied from a 4-2 deficit in the third period to beat the Bruins in overtime, 5-4 . . . Riggin, 8-2 lifetime against Boston, will be in goal today . . . To better serve his matchups, Murray will use Duchesne at left wing with Bob Carpenter and Mike Gartner . . . Defenseman Graeme Nicolson, assigned to Binghamton by the Capitals, has decided to retire. He will begin veterinary school at the University of Guelph Jan. 10.