EDMONTON, OCT. 23 -- Good teams find ways to win even when their play is not so good, and for 30 minutes tonight, the Washington Capitals were awful.

But the Capitals showed they may be the best team in the NHL -- at least right now -- by overcoming a four-goal deficit to beat the Edmonton Oilers, 6-5, in front of 15,044 at Northlands Coliseum. The startling comeback was capped by Dimitri Khristich, who scored a power-play goal with 2:08 left in the third period.

The triumph pushes the Capitals (8-1) into first-place overall in the NHL with 16 points. The Capitals move on to Vancouver Thursday to meet the Canucks, whom they supplanted for first place.

"It was 4-0 and I don't know if they got complacent," said Dino Ciccarelli, who scored twice for the Capitals. "But we've got a big game in Vancouver. And we wanted to get back to basics, if for nothing else than to get ready for that game. But once we got back to 4-2, we were in range."

Big games in October might be an oxymoron, but few could have imagined such an event between the Capitals and Canucks.

"No, I don't think so," said Ciccarelli. "But who would have thought Atlanta and Minnesota would be in the World Series?"

Besides Khristich and Ciccarelli, the Capitals also got goals from Michal Pivonka, Peter Bondra and Dale Hunter (which should have gone to Randy Burridge). But the "who" doesn't seem to matter right now, as the Capitals again got enough offense from enough places, even if it was delayed in arriving.

The Oilers gave goalie Bill Ranford a 3-0 first period lead on a goal by Joe Murphy and two by Kelly Buchberger against Capitals goalie Jim Hrivnak.

If it's possible to be lucky to trail by only three goals, it was true of the Capitals. The Oilers have struggled to score in this young season and their 3-0 lead represented their largest advantage of the season. It was the most goals and most shots (14) they registered in a period.

The Capitals managed just five shots on Ranford and none challenged him. The closest the Capitals came to scoring was when Hunter missed the post by an inch or two, but then the hole was dug.

Coach Terry Murray replaced Hrivnak with Mike Liut to start the second period. It eventually helped settle the Capitals, though not until after Josef Beranek scored on a breakaway for a 4-0 edge.

In years past, this would have been over. But the Oilers are not the Oilers of old and the Capitals are not so one-dimensional. The Capitals had scored 13 more goals than Edmonton in one less game before tonight.

The Oilers have struggled at the start of the season with those on hand and those not. It's prompted trade talks galore, including with the Capitals.

"Some teams like Washington are not rebuilding," said Oilers General Manager Glen Sather before the game. "They are looking for a team to win now. With a guy like {Bernie} Nicholls, or {Petr} Klima or Troy Mallette {all of whom want out of this organization}, we're in a position to help some team get in position to win a Stanley Cup this year. Yeah, we talked about a lot of people."

But Sather, who didn't build a five-time Cup winner by giving away players, needs a center. Asked which one of the Capitals centers he'd want most, he said, "I'll have to watch."

No Capital at any position showed much in the first 30 minutes. Hrivnak was not spectacular, but he made some good stops. Alas, no one in front did much to help.

"You make a change to try to rally the troops," Murray said.

Pivonka blasted a slap shot past Ranford to start the comeback. By then, Murray had scrambled lines, and the combination of Hunter, Burridge and Ciccarelli worked best.

Ciccarelli scored with 6:39 left in the second to slice the Oilers lead to 4-2. The Capitals wasted a five-on-three power play, but cut the margin to 4-3 when Bondra converted Todd Krygier's pass with just 2:40 left in the second period.

Intermission didn't help the Oilers. Burridge knocked in a bouncing puck for a 4-4 tie two minutes into the third and Ciccarelli scored from the slot after a Kevin Lowe turnover for the Capitals' first lead, 5-4 with 11:49 left.

Edmonton's Esa Tikkanen scored a power-play goal with 9:02 left for a 5-5 tie. Three key things then happened before Khristich's game-winner. Al Iafrate broke up a two-on-one break. Then referee Don Koharski declined to call a penalty on Hunter near the Capitals net. On the same shift, Koharski did call Edmonton's Craig Muni for tripping. Just nine seconds later, Khristich tapped in Burridge's pass.

"We deserved a better fate," said Oilers Coach Ted Green.

His counterpart looked at it differently.

"I hope," said Murray, "it is a sign of a good team."