Capitals continue to build on fine start

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Washington Capitals are doing very nicely. They were doing very nicely from the beginning. They started 4-2 without right wing Peter Bondra and center Michal Pivonka who were embroiled in contract holdouts and playing for the Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League.

And now that Bondra, the NHL's 1995 leading goal scorer, and Pivonka, the Capitals third leading scorer a year ago, have returned, the Capitals are doing even better. They've matched the 8-3 start of the 1991-92 team, which won a club-record 11 of its first 14 games.

Perhaps no one but the Capitals believed they could start like this.

Bondra and Pivonka have slipped back into the fold as if they'd never been away. In five games, Bondra has four goals and three assists.

In two games since returning from a lingering three-game suspension from last season, Pivonka has one goal, two assists.

Each night they seem to get better.

"It's not really that easy," said Pivonka. "But the team is playing well and the goalies, Olie [Kolzig] and Jim [Carey], are playing well. It's just a matter of blending in. And it's not like we've never been here before. We've been here a long time. And our game plan this season is similar to the game plan the last couple years."

Bondra, who dedicated himself to becoming a productive goal-scorer last season, rededicated himself after the first period against Montreal Wednesday.

Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld thinks Bondra is a better player when he plays a physical game. He creates more openings for himself and causes more turnovers for even more chances.

"Coach, he gave me a few hints that I should turn up my game and that's what I did," Bondra said, after securing a 5-2 win with two goals in 27 seconds. "That's why Pivo and I went to Detroit when we didn't have a contract, so that we can play and stay in shape and be ready to come back and jump right in the game. And that's what we did."

Wednesday both Bondra and Pivonka finished their checks and the Capitals finished another satisfying evening on the ice.

Year of the 'W'

Is it something in the water? Or is this the year of teams whose names start with "W" -- see Washington above and Winnipeg here.

The Jets are playing their last season in Winnipeg and not a few people thought they'd simply go through the motions. But that's hardly been the case.

Question: Who's tied for the lead in the Central Division?

Answer: The Jets.

Question: Who has the most productive offense?

Answer: The Jets. Winnipeg has scored 51 goals while going 6-5-2. A primary reason for all this is the shift of Keith Tkachuk from left wing to center and into the middle of a line with Teemu Selanne and Igor Korolev.

They've been together for five games now, and in the first four they produced 11 goals and 15 assists for 26 points -- an average of 6.5 points per game.

"It's been a good move for me and I'm quite surprised," said Tkachuk. "We do the job defensively and we've been getting the bounces and putting the points on the board. . . . We know we're leaving at the end of the season and the crowds haven't been what we'd like. But we're doing the best we can to make it the best possible year we can here in Winnipeg."

Skills are back

Two years ago one of the most entertaining parts of the NHL's All-Star weekend was the skills competition. Last year, of course, there was no NHL All-Star weekend due to the lockout. But even if there had been, the skills competition wasn't going to be held.

This season, with two sponsors -- Topps trading cards and Starter apparel -- on board, the SuperSkills contest will return. Between now and Jan. 19, each team will hold its own competition in puck control relay, fastest skater, fastest shot, rapid fire, accuracy shooting and breakaway relay.

The Capitals will hold their SuperSkills contest Nov. 12 at USAir Arena at 2 p.m.

Miscellaneous

Five Capitals are on this year's All Star ballot: center Joe Juneau; right wing Bondra; goalie Carey; defensemen Calle Johansson and Mark Tinordi. . . . Los Angeles right wing Vitali Yachmenev was named NHL Rookie of the Month for October after getting six goals and six assists in 11 games to help the Kings to a 4-3-4 start. . . . The Calgary Flames, with the second worst record in the NHL at 1-8-3, fired vice president and general manager Doug Risebrough. Executive vice president Al Coates will assume Risebrough's duties while seeking a replacement. . . St. Louis Blues right wing Brett Hull will miss at least the next two games with a pulled groin muscle that he suffered Wednesday night. Hull has not missed a regular-season game since Oct. 16, 1993. . . . Ever wonder why the Montreal Canadiens are called the "Habs"? In 1924, Madison Square Garden owner Tex Rickard was falsely told by someone that the "H" on the Canadiens' uniforms stood for "habitant," a French word that in those days was used to denote the farmers of Quebec. Rickard was told that the French players on the team came from the farms and that they were therefore "habitants" or "Habs." Evidently, it stuck. Originally, the "H" stood for hockey, as in the team's original name, Club de Hockey Canadien (CHC).

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