The Washington Capitals got Peter Bondra, the NHL's leading goal scorer last season, under contract in time to get him suited up for Friday night's game. Later that night, they announced they had also reached agreement with center Michal Pivonka.
But none of that could blunt coach Jim Schoenfeld's disappointment with his team's performance in a 7-4 loss to the Los Angeles Kings at USAir Arena.
It was the second straight loss for the Capitals, who had started the season so brilliantly at 4-1. And for the second straight game, starting goalie Jim Carey was pulled.
Yesterday, both Bondra, who signed a five-year deal for $9 million and returned with a goal and an assist in his first game, and Pivonka, who signed for five years and $5 million, were so delighted to be back they could both still muster smiles at the end of a grueling practice.
In fact, Bondra was exuberant.
"That was good," he said of the workout that left players bent and winded on the ice. "That was good for us. We get better from this."
Schoenfeld said it's not a natural phenomenon for his team to have a letdown seven games into the season. In fact, he views letdowns as "something to be avoided at all costs."
Schoenfeld called Friday's loss "a total embarrassment," and yesterday he had the Caps (4-3) on the ice for one hour, 20 minutes in the conditioning workout that would have made a Marine boot camp training program look easy.
"It wasn't a punishment," said Schoenfeld. "It was a rare opportunity for us to have a good conditioning session and work on our skills. If you want to be one of the better teams, having games like the last two isn't natural.
"But it's something we have to decide. Do we want to be mediocre and be up and down? Or do we want to push ourselves so that our best becomes a little better.
"If our best never improves and we always come back to the same level and then come down, then I think the players are cheating themselves out of finding out how far they can really go in this game."
Capitals general manager David Poile said he and Pivonka reached agreement shortly before game time Friday, but continued to talk about Pivonka's role with the team until after midnight, thus denying the sellout crowd the first-hand knowledge that both players were signed.
But Poile said the league was notified in timely fashion and the game against the Kings counted against the three-game suspension Pivonka must serve for a high-sticking incident during last season's playoff series with Pittsburgh.
"You have to look at the whole package," said Pivonka, 29, about coming to terms. "Five [million] is plenty and being here for nine years, that was another thing. . . . But at the end, neither David nor I would have signed if we didn't like the deal. And I'm happy to be back."