-- When he is playing in the minors, Trent Whitfield is an offensive catalyst, regularly among the leading scorers for the Portland Pirates. But it is Whitfield's defensive play, tenacity, and ability to win faceoffs that has earned him promotions to the Washington Capitals in each of the past four seasons.

Whitfield rejoined the club in Ottawa Thursday and played tonight as Washington's fourth line center, a job that requires him to concentrate on all the intangibles rather than goals and assists. Whitfield, 25, was leading the Pirates in goals and tied for the team lead in points at the time of his recall, and is well aware of the difference between his responsibilities with that team and this one.

"I'm really comfortable in this role with Washington," Whitfield said. "This is what I know I've got to do to stay here; I'm comfortable and happy with that. I just want to go out and contribute however I can, whether it's taking faceoffs here or there or killing a couple of penalties here or there. If that's what I have to do for the big team to get a win, I'm happy with that. I'm really excited. This is like a new start for me."

The Capitals hoped teaming Whitfield with rookie Brian Sutherby could give the club a stable and effective fourth line, and tonight it did as the line totaled six points against Ottawa. While Sutherby has enjoyed a fine season centering that line, the Capitals have yet to find comparable players to fill the defensive role. Sutherby, a natural center, will be playing a bit more on the wing now, but he has adjusted to that assignment as the season progressed.

"When I had my meeting with the coaches a few weeks ago they mentioned that come playoff time I may be on the wing," Sutherby said. "So I was prepared for it and I'm starting to get more and more comfortable with it the more I play it."

Klee Aims for Tuesday

Defenseman Ken Klee remains in Washington suffering from a bruised foot and will not play Saturday in Toronto. An MRI exam revealed no fractures, General Manager George McPhee said, and the team's trainers are optimistic he can return for Tuesday's contest. . . .

The Capitals scratched defensemen Jean-Francois Fortin and Rick Berry and forwards Ivan Ciernik, Josh Green, Alex Henry and Stephen Peat tonight. . . . Three of the six defensemen Washington dressed for tonight's game -- Jason Doig, Joel Kwiatkowski and Josef Boumedienne -- are former members of Ottawa's organization. . . . Portland goalie Maxime Ouellet was named a second-team all-star in the American Hockey League.