Juneau's playing status keeps Capitals on edge

January 31, 1995|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

Losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 4-1, Sunday was tough enough, but yesterday the Washington Capitals' frustration grew when the team learned that star center Joe Juneau will be sidelined indefinitely with a hip flexor.

Coach Jim Schoenfeld, whose team is 1-3-1 and needs to get its offense scoring with consistency, showed his exasperation when asked whether Juneau has a groin pull as well as a hip flexor.

"It's been from the [gluteus] to the groin, to the tooth to the ear, I don't know," Schoenfeld said. "The first day in camp it was the gluteus muscle. Then it was a groin. Now it's a hip flexor. I don't know, maybe a little demon keeps moving all over his body. I don't know what the combination is today. . . . Richard Pryor, 1979, has a good, funny routine about it."

Juneau sat out Saturday's skate as a precautionary measure but still was forced to the sidelines in the first period Sunday. Schoenfeld said yesterday that Juneau will not play until he is 100 percent.

"He's been treated," Schoenfeld said. "He worked out once this morning and again this afternoon -- on the uninjured parts -- and we'll see. It's probably a day-to-day thing.

"But there is no sense having him play the way he played [Sunday]," the coach said. "It [the hip flexor] is something we want to nip in the bud. When he can't skate, when he can't use his speed, he's ineffective. To play Juneau when he's not able to use his speed is like playing Craig Berube when he can't throw a hit. We need to get his conditioning back to 100 percent and we can't do that until we get his injury healed up, and we're not going to do that by working him too soon."

Juneau, who watched the Capitals' practice from the stands at Piney Orchard Ice Arena yesterday, declined to talk about his injury.

The Capitals have stressed the importance of team health since the day the lockout was settled.

So far, only three Capitals have been troubled by injuries -- goalie Rick Tabaracci (broken finger/adverse medication reaction), rookie defenseman Ken Klee (separated shoulder) and Juneau. Unfortunately for Washington, Tabaracci and Juneau are two key players.

Washington is 11th in the Eastern Conference, in which only the top eight teams qualify for postseason play.

Juneau signed an $8.2 million contract last summer and is expected to be the playmaker who makes Washington's offense go. So far, he has collected four assists in five games, as the Capitals have managed just eight goals -- five of them in one game.

"We won't put him back in just because he's healed," Schoenfeld said. "We'll make sure he's healed and then we'll get his skating legs in skating condition to make sure this thing doesn't reoccur."

Capitals general manager David Poile, saying everyone is frustrated by the way this season has started, said there is no way to tell what has caused Juneau's injury misfortune.

"Joe had the lingering groin thing from the first training camp," Poile said, referring to the NHL's original training camp last October. "That may have contributed to the situation now, I don't know. But I do think the approach we're taking is the correct one. We want him 100 percent healthy."

Meanwhile, the Capitals and forward Steve Konowalchuk agreed on a three-year contract extension that will pay him $500,000 a year.

Konowalchuk was in the last year of a $250,000 deal that will be prorated this season at the higher figure.

"He's a young player in the prime area of development," Poile said. "That's what we think, and that's what he thinks. Now it's up to him. We know he's a good, hard-working player."

Konowalchuk, 22, said doubling his salary could be viewed as doubling the pressure.

"But the way I look at it, I just have to play the way I've been playing," he said. "To me, it's a relief to get it done. A lot of guys don't want to lock themselves in this long, but it's fine with me. Mr. Poile has been fair. When I played better, he was the one who came to my agent to ask if I wanted to redo it."

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