Peake's play makes him Caps' center of attention

September 22, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- If Pat Peake wanted to, he could wave his index finger and proclaim himself the Washington Capitals' No. 1 center.

For the moment, anyway.

"We're a long way from Oct. 1, and even further from June 1," said Washington coach Jim Schoenfeld. "But right now, Pat Peake is our best center."

It is enough to make second-year man Pat Peake grin.

"Funniest thing I've heard all camp," said Peake after yesterday's pre-game skate. "Everyone knows Joe Juneau is the leader of this team and our No. 1 guy,"

Juneau, who missed three games with a strained muscle before returning for back-to-back games Tuesday and again last night, also laughed. "The season hasn't started yet," he said. "I missed five days in a row. I'm not worried. All you can do is compare yourself to yourself."

But Schoenfeld insists players are inspired to reach another level by the kind of competition Peake is providing.

A comment by Juneau -- who signed a four-year, $8.2 million contract in August, the biggest in team history -- indicated Schoenfeld might be right.

"If Pat Peake is going to have more points than me at the end of this season, he's going to have to have 130 of them," he said.

No one knows what the season will hold. Everyone expects the line of Juneau, Michal Pivonka and Dimitri Khristich to improve with more playing time.

They played together for the first time Tuesday and produced a goal by Pivonka and some fine defensive work on the penalty-killing unit. Last night, Juneau got his first goal. He also has two assists. Khristich added an assist last night to give him two goals and two assists and Pivonka has two goals and an assist.

But, at the moment, the line anchored by Peake, who will make $210,000 this season, has emerged as the team's best.

Peake, Steve Konowalchuk and Keith Jones have combined for 18 points in four games and have been solid defensively. Peake has a goal and six assists. Konowalchuk, who played center last season, has four goals and an assist at left wing. And Jones has three goals and three assists at right wing.

"With Patty, Kono and Jonesy playing better, it pushes the next line of Juneau, Khristich and Pivonka," said Schoenfeld. "And it pushes whatever our other combination is. That's what you want. Every game you want each line pushing the other. You want them saying: 'Who's the No. 1 line? I don't know. Let's go out and prove that we are.' "

When training camp opened, the Capitals had eight centers listed on their depth chart, and Peake, who spent most of last season at right wing, wasn't one of them.

"We know Patty can be an effective winger, but he can be a more effective center," said Schoenfeld, who tried Peake at center near the end of last season. "I think he's just a better player, period. He made the commitment this summer to get in the best condition he could and at center he is in his natural position."

Peake, 21, was called up from Portland last season in an effort to help the Capitals' low-voltage offense. But a series of injuries and a switch from center to the then-unfamiliar wing spot seemed to rob him of his scoring touch. In 49 games Peake had 11 goals and 18 assists.

"I'm a read-and-react-type player and I'm comfortable at center," said Peake. "Plus, I love playing with Steve and Jonesy. We read off each other and they've got great hands, so when I give it to them, they put it in the net. I don't think I was ever titled a goal-scorer. I'm a playmaker."

He's right. He had more assists than goals in his three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League. But in 1992-93, when he earned OHL Player of the Year, with 136 points, he also had 58 goals in 46 games.

"It's a nice compliment to be called No. 1," said Peake. "But it's Joe who is going to be under the microscope and the one other teams will be checking hard. That means we need more than one line. We'll need my line. We'll need every line."

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