Defenseman Mike Lalor was one of five Capitals to play in each of the first 50 games, but he was benched last night as the team met the North Stars at Capital Centre. Lalor's spot was taken by newly acquired Ken Sabourin.

Sabourin, who arrived in Washington yesterday morning, was acquired from Calgary Thursday afternoon. Immediately after Thursday's 6-1 loss in Philadelphia, Capitals Coach Terry Murray said he didn't envision using Sabourin until Sunday's game with the New York Islanders (12:05 p.m.).

But with further thought on the bus ride home, Murray decided Lalor's play had declined enough that he had to make a change.

"I wasn't real pleased with several performances," Murray said before the game. "I talked to Mike and I explained that things just aren't happening with him as smoothly as I need them to."

Lalor, 27, has never been a scorer, but the Capitals acquired him in July along with Peter Zezel for Geoff Courtnall because Lalor was known as a steady defenseman.

Although he had a minus-6 rating with the Blues last season, he was plus-13 over his career. However, heading into last night's game, Lalor had a minus-19 rating, the worst mark on the club. Defenseman Kevin Hatcher is second-lowest (minus-17), but he leads the team in scoring.

"When you look at plus-minus, it can be deceiving," Murray said. "But it can get to a certain time where it jumps out at you."

Sabourin, who was playing with Calgary's AHL affiliate in Salt Lake City, was acquired for Paul Fenton. Earlier Thursday, the Capitals acquired Fenton and John Kordic from Toronto for a fifth-round draft pick in 1991.

Kordic arrived last night and will practice with the team today. He hasn't played or practiced with a pro team since mid-November, so the Capitals are not expecting him to be in game-shape for a couple of weeks.

Peter Bondra (shoulder injury) and Rod Langway (back) also were scratched from the lineup. . . .

Assisting the War Effort

Before the game, Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." was played, in addition to the national anthem, as a way of honoring U.S. troops in the Middle East. . . . Some of those troops are Capitals season ticket holders. The team either refunded or credited the account of about 40 season ticket holders who said they were going to be in Saudi Arabia.