It was a change-of-command ceremony of sorts, as Yvon Labre stood in the Washington Capitals' locker room at Mount Vernon and shook the hand of Scott Stevens, the club's new career leader in penalty minutes.

Stevens' major for Tuesday's fight with Jay Wells of Los Angeles increased his penalty time to 760 minutes, four more than Labre was assessed.

"That was the only record I held," Labre said. "It wasn't much, but at least for a while they had something to remember me by."

Labre, of course, is also remembered whenever fans lift their eyes toward the ceiling of Capital Centre, where his No. 7 hangs as the only sweater retired by the Capitals.

Times have changed for the Capitals. Once, as an NHL doormat, they needed Labre's belligerence to gain respect, but they now rank among the league's elite and are concerned with keeping Stevens on the ice.

"They know I'm not going to respond or get involved in a fight in a close game, so they do more things and take advantage of that," Stevens said. "They try to run Rod [Langway] and me and they talk a lot, hoping we'll swing at them and get chased. That's their job, but I won't fall for it any more. I just laugh at them and say I'm using my head, but it is tough. I'm ready to go if the game's out of hand by the third period, but then you can't find most of these guys. . . .

"I used to like to fight all the time, but now I'd rather be on the ice. It's more fun. Tuesday night, I had to sit there for seven minutes and I felt really strange. It felt like half a period where I wasn't helping our team at all."

In his first three NHL seasons, Stevens battled referees and linesmen as well as opponents. Often, he removed himself from the action at a crucial moment. A combination of maturity -- he will be 22 April 1 -- and Coach Bryan Murray's persuasive talents have wrought the change.

"I didn't give the record any thought until I watched the replay Tuesday on TV and they mentioned it," Stevens said. "Seven-sixty, that's a lot in four years. But I'm way down this year [to 143 from last season's 221], and I hope any other records I get are more positive."

Actually, Stevens already holds club marks for goals by a defenseman (54) and points by a defenseman (178). He is three assists short of Rick Green's 127.

Stevens had some problems early in the season, in large part because of a bruised knee, but he has been a dominant figure the last month.

"My leg took a lot longer to come back than anybody thought," Stevens said. "It took a lot out of me. But it's fine now, and I feel confident out there. I'm playing a lot smarter, picking the right time to go up and help the offense and the right time to stay back on defense. Early this year, maybe I was trying to do too much."

The Philadelphia Flyers will visit Capital Centre Sunday for a game with first-place import. Stevens lost his temper during last week's 2-0 loss at the Spectrum, to the point where Murray yanked him down onto the bench and lectured him after the Flyers' Rick Tocchet repeatedly ran at him without much recognition from referee Bryan Lewis. Stevens says he is keeping thoughts of revenge from his mind until after tonight's contest with the Winnipeg Jets.

"I was out at the blueline that night, and Tocchet ran me right from the faceoff," Stevens said. "You'd think the ref would be aware of what was going on, but obviously he wasn't. That's over, though.

"Each game is two points, and we have to get two points tomorrow. We played badly Tuesday, and now this game with Winnipeg is that much more important, for the two points and to get us back on track before Philly comes in."