Twenty scouts and representatives from 14 NHL teams were in the Air Canada Centre press box Monday night watching the Washington Capitals play the Toronto Maple Leafs. Only a handful were still watching when the Leafs sealed the 3-1 victory with an empty-net goal in the final minute. Most had already left the building.

There wasn't much to glean from the ugly game, but, as the only contest on the league's schedule, the hockey world was watching. Few players distinguished themselves. The Capitals were weary from playing their fourth game in six nights; the Maple Leafs had a makeshift lineup with a sudden slew of injuries. Neither team provided much entertainment value to a silent arena.

"That was pretty ugly," said one scout who actually stayed until the very end. "It wasn't the worst game I've seen this year, but it was up there."

The Capitals hope to have much more jump Thursday when they host the Boston Bruins, a team they shut out on the road last week.

Washington Coach Ron Wilson had planned to have his players on the ice yesterday, but decided on the plane ride home to give them the day off to recover from their grueling schedule. They will skate today and hope to return to the .500 mark (9-10-4) with a victory over the Bruins.

"[Toronto] played three games in four nights as well, so that's the way it goes," Capitals goaltender Olaf Kolzig said. "It was a pretty even game for the most part, I thought. We came out a little slow in the first, but we got some chances in the third and just weren't able to put it in. We'll get back at it on Thursday."

To be successful, the Capitals must come up with a better effort on the power play. The top unit of Ulf Dahlen, Adam Oates and Peter Bondra showed signs of progress; they have accounted for a power-play goal in three straight games, matching the season high. But Monday night the power play was 0-4 and the players could barely get out of their own zone.

"We just didn't get the job done on our power play, and it made a huge difference," Wilson said.

Wilson pulled what had been his top line all season--Steve Konowalchuk, Jan Bulis and Richard Zednik--off the power play by the second period and instead used such third-liners as James Black, Andrei Nikolishin and Jeff Halpern.

The Bulis line has accounted for one power-play goal all season--Konowalchuk's tally in a 2-1 loss to San Jose on Oct. 31--despite being a regular presence on the man advantage. The Capitals have created chances all season, but are unable to produce on the power play more than a quarter of the way through the season (79 power-play opportunities).

Bondra and Dahlen are the only Capitals with more than one power-play goal, totaling six of the team's 12. Defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who led the team with 13 power-play goals last season, is searching for his first goal of any sort this season. He has just five assists in 18 games.

Capitals Notes: Forwards Joe Sacco (bruised leg) and Chris Simon (neck sprain) have been skating with the team, and Wilson said he expects both to be ready for Thursday's game. Defenseman Joe Reekie (bruised foot) is still out. . . . Capitals 1999 draft pick Michal Sivek (29th overall) has 15 goals and 36 points in 26 games with Prince Albert of the Western Hockey League. Kris Beech (seventh overall) has 14 goals and 32 points with Calgary of the WHL. . . . Defenseman Jamie Huscroft was returned to Portland. . . . Fans attending Thursday's game are asked to bring an unwrapped toy, which will be donated to needy children. . . . Rookie Jeff Halpern will chat on the team's Web site (www.washingtoncaps.com) from 1:30 to 2:30 today. The Potomac native will be skating and talking to players from the Montgomery Youth Hockey Association at ARC Ice- Sports in Rockville at 6:15. He skated in the league as a youth.