The Washington Capitals, often criticized for a dearth of scorers, lost the one hot offensive property they do have when the NHL suspended right wing Peter Bondra for tonight's game here against the Buffalo Sabres.

Bondra, who will get a hearing with NHL senior vice president Brian Burke on Monday or Tuesday, is being punished for kneeing Florida Panthers winger Ray Sheppard in Saturday's game. Sheppard had to be carried off the ice and will be out five weeks with a sprained knee. He is tied for the Panthers' goal-scoring lead with 20 goals in 47 games. Bondra is the Capitals' leading scorer and goal-scorer with 32 goals and 20 assists in 48 games.

Washington's second-highest goal-scorer, center Joe Juneau (14), left the ice Saturday after taking a two-handed slash to the left knee from Florida left wing Johan Garpenlov, but X-rays on the knee were negative and he played in tonight's game in Buffalo. After Saturday's game, Bondra said he did not collide knees with Sheppard on purpose and that he regretted Sheppard was injured.

"I know Peter, and Peter is not trying to hit anybody," Coach Jim Schoenfeld said. "Sure, Florida's upset because {of Sheppard's injury}, but there was no intent there."

On-ice officials gave Bondra a five-minute major penalty for kneeing but did not give him a match penalty, which signifies intent to injure. Panthers General Manager Bryan Murray obviously disagreed with the ruling and arranged to send a tape of the incident to the league. In a small postgame confrontation, Murray accused Bondra of injuring Sheppard on purpose, Murray said.

Sheppard, the fourth player Florida has lost to a knee injury this season, believed the incident was not unique. "Eight years ago, when I was a little younger in my career, guys didn't hit like that," he said. "More guys used shoulder-to-shoulder, or hits where you hit guys a little higher. "That's everybody's livelihood, and you should have enough respect for players in the league that you wouldn't put their career in jeopardy." Last season, Bondra accumulated 40 penalty minutes; he already has 60 this season.