All the Washington Capitals want for Christmas is a healthy Peter Bondra. Fewer than 10 days have passed since Bondra--who has nearly twice as many goals as any teammate--underwent minor knee surgery, though it seems much longer. The Capitals have been unable to find the net without him.

Last night, they not only failed to score, they rarely came close. The Montreal Canadiens, a floundering, injury-riddled team, blanked the Capitals, 1-0, at MCI Center before 11,225 fans, handing Washington its second straight shutout. The Capitals have gone 137 minutes 45 seconds without scoring a non-empty net goal; 120:15 without a goal of any kind. The franchise record for the longest scoreless streak is 181:15, set over four games in 1989.

"It wasn't there tonight," Coach Ron Wilson said. "Once again we didn't shoot the puck. And you've got to credit Montreal, they were right in our face."

The Capitals (10-13-5) had earned at least one point in 10 straight home games, but last night lost their first game at home since Nov. 11. Now, one of the NHL's weakest road teams (3-9-1) heads out for five straight contests away from MCI Center. They won't play at home again until Dec. 27.

The Capitals have been unable to move closer to Southeast Division foes Florida and Carolina, and in the meantime Montreal, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers have pulled within striking distance. Those teams likely will battle for the final playoff berths all season--the Capitals are 1-5-1 against them. Washington is 1-4-1 in its past six games within the Eastern Conference, beating only the New York Islanders, the worst team in the league.

A lack of consistent goal scoring has dogged them in those games. Jan Bulis does not have a point in eight games (one goal in 13 games). Andrei Nikolishin is without a point in nine games. Joe Sacco's point slump is 11 games. Yogi Svejkovsky's streak stands at 13 games (15 games without a goal). Ulf Dahlen has gone seven games without a point. Defenseman Sergei Gonchar has one goal in his past 23 games. Calle Johansson has one goal in 20 games. Ken Klee has one goal in 13 games. Dmitri Mironov has one goal in 28 games. Brendan Witt has yet to score this season (25 games).

That the Capitals and Canadiens would combine to play ugly hockey came as no surprise. They are two of the most offensively strapped clubs in the NHL. The Capitals have scored 16 goals in the past nine games; the Canadiens average slightly more than two goals a game, third-worst in the NHL.

"We didn't score and we didn't play a good game," Capitals left wing Steve Konowalchuk said. "We didn't seem to have the jump as a team and it showed."

Capitals goaltender Olaf Kolzig made key saves late in the second period when he was tested by Craig Darby and Eric Weinrich. Washington remained in a funk, unable to generate any attack, handing the puck over in its own end, something it had avoided the last six weeks. For much of the game, Richard Zednik was the only player doing anything constructive with the puck. When Witt took a slashing penalty with Gonchar already in the box, Montreal had the break it needed.

The Canadiens enjoyed a two-man advantage for 76 seconds and cashed in. Klee blocked a shot, but the rebound skipped right to Weinrich at the point. He fed Martin Rucinsky for a one-timer from the right side and he pounded in the puck with about three minutes left in the second period. The Capitals' streak of 41 straight penalty kills at MCI Center was over. They allowed power-play goals in consecutive games for the first time since games on Oct. 12 and 16.

"We deserved to be down five-on-three," Wilson said. "Those were two bad penalties and we got what we deserved tonight, no doubt."

That goal was more than enough. The Capitals (0-4 on the power play) had 11 shots through two periods and went 13 minutes before testing Jose Theodore (second career shutout) in the third period--too little, too late. The good news is Bondra could be back next week; the bad news is the Capitals play three games before then.