With new linemates, Juneau hopes to make his point(s) every game


When Joe Juneau signed his four-year, $8.2 million contract in August, Washington Capitals general manager David Poile pointed to him as the team's brightest star.

Juneau, who had a reputation as a fine playmaker, said it was his job to make goal scorers where there were none.

"This contract shows there are going to be demands on me, and I'm going to have to produce," Juneau said at the time.

It took Juneau nearly half of this lockout-shortened season to start living up to those demands.

"Sometimes it is frustrating for a guy like me not to get points two or three games in a row, because that's what I'm striving for," said Juneau, who was traded to the Capitals by the Boston xTC Bruins on March 21, 1994, for defenseman Al Iafrate. "But then, if you win, you can be happy that you win."

There have been 11 games this season in which he has had no points, but never has he come up empty in three straight. A spectacular skater, Juneau is second on the Capitals with 26 points (four goals, 22 assists) going into tonight's game with the Philadelphia Flyers.

L Peter Bondra, with 22 goals and six assists, leads the team.

While Juneau has been searching for permanent linemates, Bondra and rookie goaltender Jim Carey have sparked the Capitals' 13-2-2 run toward the playoffs.

"We're winning; that's all you want," said Juneau. "We don't have the team of superstars, and it is frustrating at times, but you get over it. This organization treats people well, with class, like humans, and that is important.

"I'm disappointed with myself for not having more points. But you get what you get and you still work hard. That's why I'm here, to make plays. If the plays are there and they don't always go in, then we just have to keep working. I mean, I'm always going to make the plays."

When the Capitals were 3-10-5, Poile said they wanted Juneau, the playmaker, to score more goals. Even now, Poile is hoping for more production.

"We're demanding parents," said Poile. "We want our kids to do their best, and I don't think Joe or our team has reached its potential."

But the team is getting closer, and Juneau is getting better, too.

He began the season working with Bondra, Michal Pivonka and Dimitri Khristich, but it wasn't a good match.

"I probably was taking something away from them the way I was playing hockey, and they were probably taking something from me the way they were playing," Juneau said. "It really didn't work out. And we were losing games that way. Now they've come together to be a good line for us, scoring some big goals."

Now Juneau is working with Steve Konowalchuk, Keith Jones and Martin Gendron.

Gendron, a 21-year-old rookie, has two goals and one assist in the past four games, and Konowalchuk has four goals in the past five games.

Gendron, who, like Juneau, is from Quebec, said he and Juneau talk on the bench between shifts.

"We talk in French about the plays," Gendron said. "Joe always wants the puck, and I like going to the net and getting open and then have the center feed me in the slot. All my career that's how it has been. . . . I'm more of the finisher."

It's perfect for Juneau, who likes to hang onto the puck and have his wings drive to the net. Players like Konowalchuk, Jones and ** Gendron do that. They also skate well, backing up opposing defenses, creating a little more space in which Juneau can work.

"I think it has been hard for Joe," said left wing Craig Berube,

who is Juneau's neighbor and probably sees more of him than anyone else. "They've used a lot of different people with him on lines, and there aren't an abundance of goal-scorers on this team.

"[Coach] Jim Schoenfeld expects him to play a hard-nosed game -- like he expects all of us to play a hard-nosed game. He expects him to finish hits and play defense. It's not just a wide-open game for him like it used to be."

For a while, it seemed, Juneau was a man alone. In more ways than one.

"There are not a lot of single guys on this team," Berube said. "In the old days, 10 guys would get together after practice and go out, but now, everyone has some other commitment."

Add to that this short season, the elimination of the long West Coast road trips on which players used to develop camaraderies and the fact that Juneau's roommates have changed almost as often as his linemates on the short Eastern Conference trips, and it is apparent that making close friends is not to be taken for granted.

"It makes it hard to have a best friend," Juneau said. "But the basic point is that I don't have any enemies. There are over 20 guys here and it's obvious you're not going to have 20 best friends on the team, but so long as you have 20 friends, it's good."

And he has that. He is the team's best setup man, giving scoring opportunities to all who show up beside him on any given night.

"Joe is doing what we expect him to do," said Schoenfeld.

"And, now, we expect -- as we get closer and closer to crunch time -- his play to improve. . . . I think he's playing through injuries now. He's playing harder, finishing his checks. I think he's playing pretty well."


Opponent: Philadelphia Flyers

Site: USAir Arena, Landover

Time: 7:30

TV/Radio: HTS, ESPN2/WMAL (630 AM)

Outlook: The Capitals (16-12-7) had hoped to be within reach of the Atlantic Division lead tonight, but the Flyers (19-13-4) assured themselves of first place for at least another day when they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-4, Thursday night. Now the Caps, who are 13-2-2 since March 2, need a victory to pull back within one point of the front-running Flyers. Philadelphia is led by the Legion of Doom -- Eric Lindros, John LeClair and Mikael Renberg -- who have 122 points in the past 26 games. On the injury side, the Flyers report only D Eric Desjardins (groin strain) as day-to-day. Washington reports LW Craig Berube (virus) is day-to-day and C Dave Poulin (groin) and RW Keith Jones (ribs, foot) are out.

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