Schoenfeld's idea turns into Bondra's big night

February 07, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

The night Jim Schoenfeld took over the Washington Capitals, his team lost, 7-2, to Buffalo.

There were a lot of things in that game Schoenfeld didn't like. But he also saw a few things he believed the Capitals could build on.

One was the combination of Dale Hunter and Dimitri Khristich. And when he thought about those two a little more, and thought about who might work best on the right wing, Schoenfeld decided the answer was Peter Bondra.

"Hunter is terrific on faceoffs," said Schoenfeld. "He's also very smart, gritty and an excellent passer.

"Dimitri also has great offensive abilities and plays tough defensively. I thought if I put them together with Peter, who has great speed, it could be a very good mix."

It is a combination that will be seen again tonight against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

And it is a combination that has gotten better with each game.

But whether it can better or even match the performance it turned in Saturday night in a 6-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning leaves much to the imagination.

Against Tampa Bay, it produced one of the greatest performances in team history.

Bondra got the credit, because he put the puck in the net five times -- four times in a 4:12 span in the opening period -- and tied or set four team and/or NHL records.

But it was Hunter and Khristich, who each had three assists, who put the puck on his stick and set up the plays that Bondra finished.

"I've never played on a line with the two of them," said Hunter, who seems to have regained his leg strength and timing, eroded through a 31-game layoff because of suspension and injury in the first half of the season.

"I've never spent this much time playing with either of them," he said. "Dimo has terrific talent and Peter has such great speed, it makes my job easy. All I have to do is make the passes.

"I can see it coming together."

Khristich has been Washington's most consistent offensive player most of the season. He leads the team in goals with 23, but has only two in the past eight games.

Now he is contributing with assists, and may find himself in a goal-scoring race with Bondra, who after Saturday's outburst has 19, second on the team.

Bondra had struggled to find the net all season. But since finding Hunter at the center of his line, he seems to have become more settled and patient.

Since being put on the line for the Philadelphia game Jan. 29, he has not been able to stop talking about how much he likes the combination.

"It is Dale Hunter who makes my job easy," Bondra said. "Dale is everywhere on the ice. He is always helping me out, giving me the puck. I am getting great passes all night.

"And when I make a mistake, he covers it. And when I get hit, he comes to help me out."

It was the first five-goal performance of Bondra's four-year NHL career. It was his second career hat trick, and it was a natural hat trick, with three straight goals in 2:06 of the first period.

CAPITALS TONIGHT

Opponent: New York Rangers

Site: Madison Square Garden, New York

Time: 7:35

TV: None

Radio: WMAL (630 AM)

Outlook: The Capitals have won four of five. This game is the team's third in four days and the first of a three-game road trip. The Rangers have not played since Thursday's 3-0 victory over Boston. Capitals RW Pat Peake (leg), who has not played in two games, traveled to New York, and a decision on his status was expected before game time. Rangers C Ed Olczyk (fractured thumb) and LW Greg Gilbert (knee) are out.

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