LANDOVER -- Washington Capitals right wing Peter Bondra knows how to make an entrance, exhibiting thrilling moves and producing a goal and an assist last night in his first game back nTC after a 39-day holdout.
But his brilliance wasn't enough, as the Los Angeles Kings continued their undefeated cross-country march with a 7-4 victory over Washington.
And they left Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld coldly furious as his team's record fell to 4-3 through what he judged an unworthy effort.
"This was a major embarrassment," Schoenfeld said. "As many errors as we made tonight, it was a major embarrassment to me and it should be a major embarrassment to every guy who had our sweater on -- from the goaltenders on out.
"There was a multitude of errors. For three goals, we're standing right beside the guy who scored the goal and we wouldn't check him," said Schoenfeld. "I would say that would count as standing around . . .
"It's a matter of commitment, and tonight we weren't a commited team. We were not a hungry team. We were not an intelligent team. You add those up and it usually equals losing."
Even when your leading goal-scorer is back in the lineup.
To the sellout crowd of 18,130 at USAir Arena on Bondra's homecoming night, it wasn't bad enough that their team lost ugly. It was made worse because so many former Capitals played major roles for the Kings.
Rookie goalie Byron Dafoe, who could not climb out of a pile of young goalies in the Caps' system, lifted his and the Kings' record to 3-0-3 with a 39-save performance.
Dimitri Khristich, who spent five years as a Capital before being traded last summer, had a goal and an assist. John Druce, whose hot playoff goal-scoring led the Capitals to the conference finals in 1989-90, assisted on Jari Kurri's second goal, at 13:13 of the third period, and put the game out of reach.
With 1:19 left, Kurri added insurance, scoring into an open net for a hat trick, as Wayne Gretzky picked up his fourth assist of the night in what was probably his best career performance here.
"You've got to have one great game every 15 years," he said happily. "I think we caught them on a good night. They had just signed one of their top guns. Sometimes, you get a little over-excited about that."
Bondra did get the Capitals back in the game in the second period. First, he took a sweet pass from Joe Reekie and --ed down the ice in his inimitable style, arriving in the corner just in time to shoot a beautiful pass to Mike Eagles in front of the Kings' net for Washington's first goal.
"I was going to get the puck in the corner but I didn't think I could outrace Peter, so I went to the net and he made a perfect pass onto my stick," said Eagles. "Obviously, he's an awesome player.
"It's just unfortunate we didn't capitalize on his return. This is really, really disappointing. We didn't play the way we were supposed to. We just had too many breakdowns."
Converted defenseman Jim Johnson scored his first goal since 1992-93, when he played for the Minnesota North Stars, to make it 4-1, and then Bondra got his first goal of the season with 2:20 left in the period.
Bondra skated to the glass behind the goal and celebrated with the crowd, as if to say, 'I'm back', and the Capitals were back in it, 4-3. But they would not get closer.