When Washington Capitals right wing Peter Bondra recorded his second hat trick in as many outings Friday night, baseball caps rained onto the ice at MCI Center. So did a motorcycle helmet. "I saw that," Bondra said. "I wanted to get it, but I didn't." With nine goals in his last six games, Bondra appears to be in the middle of an offensive outburst that could keep him in headgear for quite some time. His next big test will come tonight when the Buffalo Sabres and uber-goaltender Dominik Hasek arrive at MCI Center, and while everyone in the Washington locker room is aware of Hasek's bid to grab the league's most valuable player honors for a third straight season, no one who has seen Bondra play during the past week is betting against him. "If I was another goalie, I'd be worried," Washington goaltender Olaf Kolzig said. "Bonzai has had pretty good success against Dominik, and there's no better time for him to be hot. Dominik is the best goaltender in the world and Bonzai, when he's on his game, is the best goal scorer in the league. And Bonzai's on his game right now." The Capitals (19-26-4) certainly need all the heat they can get. Even riding a three-game winning streak, Washington ranks 12th in the Eastern Conference standings, eight points out of a playoff berth with 33 regular season games left. Their chances of making the postseason improve greatly if Bondra is playing well, although he has discovered recently that playing well isn't always a guarantee of success. He is well behind his usual scoring pace this season, despite having about 50 more shots and about 30 more scoring chances than he did at this time last year. There have been games when he has seemed to be doing everything right, attacking the net with a vengeance while still playing good defense, and nothing has gone in the net. "I was getting a lot of chances, having a lot of shots on net -- I just had to stay patient and stay positive," Bondra said. "Maybe I was squeezing my stick a little harder than usual, but all of the sudden when you get a couple of goals, you relax. You find your way to the puck with good positioning, and you have fun again. Then more start to go in. "I was hitting nets, I was hitting posts, I was hitting {goalie's} stomachs, but the puck didn't go in. Now, it's going in." Coach Ron Wilson believes the difference may be largely attributed to Bondra's new linemates, Adam Oates and Joe Juneau. The threesome started playing together when Oates returned from a groin injury, and they began blazing through opposing goaltenders shortly thereafter. The return of young skill forwards Jan Bulis and Richard Zednik from injuries also has helped Bondra by forcing opposing defenses to concentrate on more than just his line. "Getting Adam back has made it so much easier for everyone else, especially Peter Bondra because he gets more room and gets the puck," Wilson said. "Watching Peter is great fun. Everyone enjoys scoring, but it's fun to watch Peter Bondra or Pavel Bure or Paul Kariya who just have this pure joy they show on their face when they score. It's like what they live for, and it's nice to see Peter happy again because the puck is going in." Capitals Notes: When the ice was unavailable at the Capitals' practice rink yesterday, most of the team hit the weight room instead of waiting around until a practice could start. The change was actually a nice break for the Capitals, who have been playing games almost every other night. . . . Left wing Chris Simon, out for the season with a shoulder injury, showed support for his MCI Center brethren last night by attending the Wizards' home opener. Simon became a basketball fan a few years ago when he was playing for the Colorado Avalanche. "We did a lot of things with the Denver Nuggets, and I got into the sport," he said. "It's the only other sport I like to watch. There are a lot of aspects of the game that are like hockey -- I don't think people realize how physical it is until they are down on the floor. Those guys are pushing and shoving each other all over. I like that." . . . Tonight's game will start at 8:07 p.m. to accommodate ESPN. CAPTION: Capitals' Peter Bondra, right, receives a congratulatory pat from Joe Juneau after scoring a hat trick in Friday's win. ec CAPTION: Capitals' Peter Bondra is off last season's scoring pace, but his touch has returned with two hat tricks in the past two outings. (Photo ran in an earlier edition) ec