Juneau has whale of Caps' debut

March 23, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- Neither the Washington Capitals nor their fans had any trouble picking Joe Juneau out of the crowd on the USAir Arena ice last night.

Juneau was the one with the extended face guard on his helmet, the number 90 on his back and the lively puck on his hockey stick.

He was the one getting the puck to Kevin Hatcher to set up Calle Johansson's power-play goal with 4:56 gone in the first period for a 1-0 lead against the Hartford Whalers.

He also was the one carrying the puck up the ice to safety before passing to Dimitri Khristich for the set-up to Randy Burridge and Washington's second power-play goal and a 2-1 lead with 8:02 gone in the second period.

And Juneau was the one who treated the Capitals and their fans to a rare sight with 12:07 to play.

It was then that a Shawn Anderson rebound came out to Juneau just outside the crease. Juneau, instead of instantly smacking the puck back at Hartford goalie Sean Burke, took control.

With bodies everywhere, Juneau acted as if he had all the time in the world. He faked right, looked at the pile in front of the net, stepped left and then lofted the puck through the perfect opening for the Capitals' third power-play goal to finish off the 4-1 victory over the Whalers.

"I knew Sean would dive again," said Juneau. "I faked and came back and had the whole left side of the net open."

The victory and the reception from the 11,267 cheering fans was welcomed by Juneau.

"For some reason, all I was thinking about on the plane ride here was all that I was leaving behind," said Juneau, acquired from Boston Monday for All-Star defenseman Al Iafrate. "But all that is going to be forgotten quickly after a start like this. The playoffs are coming and I know after one game that we can be good."

The Capitals have now won three of their last four games and have a two-point lead over the Florida Panthers for seventh place in the Eastern Conference.

Juneau wasn't the only Capital to make an impressive debut last night. Defensemen Joe Reekie and Jim Johnson, obtained in other deals Monday, also were quick to catch on with their new Capitals teammates. Washington found itself returning to the old school of defense, as those two hung back at mid-ice and the blue line, limiting Hartford's counter-attacks.

"I think they're going to solidify our defense," said Caps defenseman Sylvain Cote, who started alongside Reekie. "They're both very solid."

Hartford, outshot 46-16, got only one shot past goalie Don Beaupre, when Robert Kron scored on a power play with 17 seconds left in the first period.

Reekie and Johnson said they were eager to get the first game in.

"It's always tough and a little nerve-racking before the first gamewith a new team," said Johnson, a former Dallas Star. "Basically it's the same game, but you don't know the tendencies of all the new people."

At least Reekie and Johnson arrived in time for yesterday morning's skate.

Juneau's first skate with his new teammates was in the game. The first shift looked tentative, but after that, it was apparent that hockey is hockey to Juneau.

"It takes a very talented guy to do what he did," said Washington coach Jim Schoenfeld. "It simply let his instincts take over. He used his innate ability to find the open man. At times, he dominated and showed himself to be an offensive force."

"I've got to give a lot of credit to Juneau," said Johansson. "He can hold on to the puck just one or two seconds longer than most players and find the open man. He simply settled every thing down on the power play.

"He set us up and did you see him on that goal he scored? He could have immediately shot the backhand, but he didn't. He held it and got the open net. He must have a lot of ice in his stomach."

Juneau didn't expect to be with the Capitals. Boston assistant general manager Mike Milbury had told him two weeks ago that he wasn't going to be traded.

"But I'm very excited about being here. Who could ask for anything more than this kind of start?" he said. "I couldn't. I was very nervous, especially at the start. But I didn't feel any pressure."

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