EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., OCT. 16 -- Dino Ciccarelli sat on a bench at the Montreal Forum late Monday night, looking at the score sheet from the Washington Capitals' 3-1 loss to the Canadiens.

Ciccarelli saw that Montreal goalie Patrick Roy had stopped 22 of 23 shots, including all seven of his.

"He makes a million something a year," Ciccarelli said, without finishing the observation that Roy ought to be able to perform creditably in goal. "He played well." Ciccarelli paused and added: "It's going to be like last year -- a long, grinding season."

No one thought otherwise before the season began, and the Capitals' 2-4 start has done nothing to change things. Although it is possible some team will race away from the rest of the Patrick Division, the trick will be to stay with the pack as long as possible.

That will be easier for the Capitals if they can occasionally win in the division. Last season they were 18-16-1 against division foes. Only two teams had better marks. This season, they are 0-3, with two losses to the first-place New York Rangers.

The Capitals get another crack at improving their division record and grabbing their first road win when they meet the New Jersey Devils Wednesday night at 7:45 at Brendan Byrne Arena.

Although the Devils beat the Capitals in an exhibition game, this will be the teams' first regular season meeting since they faced off in the first round of the division playoffs last spring. The Capitals won that series, four games to two.

The Capitals are expected to have right wing Steve Leach available for the game, and probably will have center Peter Zezel back.

The Montreal game was a tight-checking affair without a lot of sterling offensive performances. The Capitals lost because their small mistakes were turned into big goals by the Canadiens.

At the other end, Washington was frustrated. Ciccarelli has just one goal this season, but when the leading scorer on the team (John Druce) has just seven points, it could signal a larger problem.

"There's a lot of people I would like to have better goal production right now," Coach Terry Murray said after today's practice in Montreal.

The Devils are 3-2-1 in this young season. They have been awful on the road, allowing seven goals in each loss. But they are 3-0-1 at home -- including Saturday's 5-3 win over Calgary in their last game -- although they have had trouble drawing fans.

The Capitals ousted New Jersey from the playoffs in good part because they forechecked the devil out of the Devils.

"We stuck to our game plan and finished our checks," Dale Hunter said. "They had a lot of finesse players and that slowed them down."

The Devils still have some of those players. The Soviet defensemen, Alexei Kasatonov and Viacheslav Fetisov, are back. New Jersey has an excellent line in Peter Stastny, Kirk Muller and John MacLean, and it has become more physical with the acquisition of Claude Lemieux from Montreal.

"They added Lemieux, who is the type of player that bumps and grinds," Murray said. "He's an agitator, though he isn't necessarily going to drop the gloves. He has a presence he established in Montreal. But looking at their lineup, it is still a highly skilled team and those players will dictate the outcome more so than the physical type players."

However, the Devils also have made news with their fists. In the season opener against Detroit, Troy Crowder beat up Detroit heavyweight Bob Probert. Probert earlier fought Crowder's linemate, Al Stewart, but the Crowder fight has lasted in people's minds. Then Crowder decked Philadelphia tough guy Jeff Chychrun and won a fight with Tony Horacek.