The slumping Washington Capitals got some sorely needed good news today when forward Chris Simon and defenseman Joe Reekie returned to the lineup after lengthy injuries.

Meanwhile, sniper Peter Bondra remained in Washington and skated for the first time since undergoing minor knee surgery--a major step toward a possible return next week.

Originally, Reekie wasn't expected to return until this weekend, but skated hard this week and impressed coaches in practice. Reekie injured his foot blocking a shot in San Jose on Oct. 31 and briefly returned for two games, but had missed 16 of 18 games before tonight's contest against the Thrashers. Simon fell awkwardly after being checked on Nov. 27 and missed six games.

Reekie returned with his old defensive partner, Sergei Gonchar, who, along with rookie Alexei Tezikov, struggled to find a consistent level of play. Reekie, 34, will be gradually eased back into play, taking the spot of Tezikov, who was sent to minor league Portland (Maine) today.

"There's a role we've had recently for our sixth defenseman playing 10 or 11 minutes, three or four shifts a period," Coach Ron Wilson said. "And that would be great for Joe to kind of break himself in like a new car--you know the first 500 miles you can't go over 50 miles per hour."

Simon returned to a line with center Andrei Nikolishin and right wing Joe Sacco. That line was playing well and creating ample scoring chances prior to Simon's injury. Simon's return could spark his linemates. Nikolishin does not have a point in the last nine games, while Sacco is point-less in 11 games. Plus, opponents take far fewer liberties with a rugged enforcer such as Simon in the lineup.

"He's a physical presence," Wilson said. "He clears out room and a lot of people don't know what to expect out of Si. And he's also a much better offensive player than people give him credit for. When he's healthy and he gets quality minutes he can usually put up almost a point per game."

Bondra was expected to miss two to four weeks after his surgery Dec. 5, but was off crutches in one day and eager to play, especially with the Capitals mired in a dreadful scoring slump since he's been hurt.