Alex Henry's strange journey from Edmonton to Toronto to Washington finally ended yesterday when he officially joined the Capitals and practiced with the team. Henry was claimed off waivers last Thursday from the Oilers but was stuck in Canada awaiting clearance for a work permit, with the immigration process much more difficult post-Sept. 11.

Henry, 23, did not participate in last night's game with Boston at MCI Center, and needs a few days to become acclimated to the team and work on his fitness after missing nearly a week. Henry said he worked out and skated a few times while sitting at home in Toronto awaiting word on his work permit, but has not played a game since Oct. 15. He participated in Edmonton's first three games, then was placed on waivers in order to be sent back to the minors.

"I was just waiting at home for everything to get done down here," said Henry, who will make $550,000 this season. "I went to the gym once and tried to get on the ice a couple of times and just relaxed at home other than that."

The Capitals hope Henry, selected 67th overall in the 1998 draft, blossoms into a consistent, bruising defenseman. He has the size to do so -- 6 feet 5, 220 pounds -- and has worked on developing his toughness, becoming a more physical player last season in the minors.

"It's been a criticism of me that I haven't been as physical as I could have been," Henry said. "So for the last little while I've tried to take charge and bring that to the table. This is going to be a good opportunity for me to break in and contribute."

Nikolishin Talks 'Aren't Budging'

William Dowling, the agent for unsigned restricted free agent Andrei Nikolishin, said he called General Manager George McPhee a few days ago and also met with McPhee during intermission of Washington's game in New York last week, but reported no progress on contract talks.

The Capitals will not budge from their qualifying offer of $1.364 million -- the minimum 10 percent raise required to retain a player's rights -- while Nikolishin is seeking $1.5 million to $1.6 million a season on a two-year deal. "We have talked, but I can't say we're negotiating," Dowling said, "because they aren't budging." . . .

Defenseman Brendan Witt missed his third straight game with a groin pull and defenseman Sylvain Cote was also scratched last night -- he has played in just one of 10 games this season. Washington is carrying nine defensemen and 12 forwards.