BRENTWOOD, MO., DEC. 21 -- There was always a shadow over Scott Stevens during the eight seasons he played hockey in Washington.

In his early days -- when he was just a big, strong 18-year-old with lots of potential, but prone to mistakes -- the shadow provided protection from eyes that might have objected to those errors.

But in later years, the shadow might have been restrictive. There was a Norris Trophy winner on the Capitals, people would say, but it wasn't Stevens; it was Rod Langway.

"There are two ways to look it," Stevens said this morning. "When I came up my first year, there is no question Rod Langway and Brian Engblom took a lot of the pressure off of me. They were established defensemen and they made it easier for me to play with the Capitals.

"People weren't expecting a whole lot from me, and Rod did a great job. Maybe the last three or four years, it was the other way around. Maybe I was behind his shadow, but I was playing the most and that speaks for itself."

That situation ended in July. The shadow didn't move. Stevens did.

"Washington was very nice and I had a lot of friends, but it was time to move on," he said. "The most important thing is my family and I was looking for a good contract."

He got more than good. The St. Louis Blues broke with normal practice and signed the free agent defenseman to a $5.1 million contract.

"There are a lot of very good people in the organization and they all want to win," said Stevens, who faced the Capitals for the first time Thursday night in a 3-3 tie. "There is the odd time you feel a difference. But after eight years in one organization, obviously it takes a little time to get used to the surroundings. But we're starting to feel quite at home."

Geoff Courtnall will tell you the same thing. He became a Blue the same day Stevens did, as the Capitals sent Courtnall to St. Louis for Peter Zezel and Mike Lalor.

"I'm hoping I'm here to stay," Courtnall said after practice. "I'd prefer to finish my career here. I like this city and they've treated me great. Things have gone fairly well."

If Stevens left for the money, Courtnall left because he felt there would not be enough shadows. There would be no escaping the glare of adverse publicity generated by last spring's Georgetown incident.

A 17-year-old woman told police she was sexually assaulted in a limousine after a Capitals team party. Courtnall, Dino Ciccarelli and Neil Sheehy were the accused, with Stevens implicated as well. All said they were innocent and a grand jury decided not to indict any of the four.

Courtnall blames the media.

"That is a big part of it," Courtnall said. "The way it was handled was disappointing. That's the sort of feeling I left town with. I felt it was going to be best for myself and family to move on."

Late in October, Capitals Coach Terry Murray said Courtnall "wimped out" in asking for a trade.

"If that's the way he feels, it's his right to say it, I guess," Courtnall said. "It's disappointing."

Overall, it's been a good season so far for Courtnall, who is the second-leading scorer on the Blues. Brett Hull, whose two third-period goals forced the Thursday tie, leads the Blues with 50 points. Courtnall, who had 74 points last season for the Capitals, has 13 goals and 20 assists in 34 games. He and Hull started the season on the same line, with Adam Oates in the middle, but Oates missed almost 20 games with an injury.

"Oates is the best passer I've played with, other than Hunts," Courtnall said, referring to the Capitals' Dale Hunter, with whom he keeps in touch. "And Oates is right-handed {Hunter is left-handed}, so he'll go to the left side more, which is great for me. The first 15 games we really had it going."

Stevens has contributed points, but more importantly, intangibles. "He's upgraded our team and he's made individuals better," said Blues Coach Brian Sutter, who has often paired Stevens with Jeff Brown. They are the fifth- and sixth-leading scorers on the team, totaling five goals and 34 assists.

But before Stevens, 26, scored any goals or bruised any bodies with checks in a regular-season game, he was voted captain of the team. It is a distinction he had in Washington only when Langway was absent from the lineup.

"I thought it would be someone else," Stevens said. "There are a lot of leaders here. It was an honor and I was proud to be selected."