The Washington Capitals will be without leading scorer Peter Bondra for two to three weeks as he recovers from minor arthroscopic knee surgery, the team said yesterday. Bondra had a minor ligament tear repaired in his left knee and is on crutches.

Bondra's absence could intensify the Capitals' biggest problem this season: consistent scoring. The injury had been bothering him since training camp and caused the forward's play to deteriorate to the point where he decided he could no longer delay the procedure.

"The last three weeks I feel it a lot," Bondra said. "My game wasn't there and I don't think I was helping the team and I was kind of hiding in the game and I wasn't involved as much as I should be. So I felt the knee was weak, so I talked to [General Manager] George McPhee and we decided to take care of it now and make sure it doesn't get to the point where it would cause more trouble."

Bondra, 31, scored nine goals in the first 11 games but has scored in just three of the last 14 games. Lately Bondra has had trouble accelerating and stopping, and was limited to finding a seam and waiting to get the puck. In essence, he has had to rely solely on his powerful shot. Much of his game is based on speed and, without that weapon, his productivity was limited. Bondra was receiving treatment on the knee daily, but saw no signs of improvement.

"It really took away my jump," Bondra said. "It's hard starting--once I get going you can kind of control it. I was hoping I could get through the whole season but I really kind of aggravated it a lot and a couple of times a game I would really feel it on the bench and it bothered me a lot."

Bondra slipped from 52 goals in 1997-98 to 31 last season. He has led the team in goals each of the past five seasons and has reached the 40-goal plateau three times. He is one of the top goal scorers in the NHL this decade. Even though he has been struggling, Bondra is one of a handful of players in the league who is a threat each time he touches the puck. Even when players of Bondra's caliber are not 100 percent they still attract heavy attention from defenders, freeing up other forwards.

Bondra has scored 13 of the team's 62 goals, with the next highest goal scorer being center Jan Bulis, with seven. Bulis is now skating on a line with Andrei Nikolishin and Ulf Dahlen. Adam Oates remains the top center, on a line with Steve Konowalchuk and Richard Zednik. The Capitals have scored just nine goals in the last five games and have been held to a single goal in three of them.

"To be honest with you [Bondra] hasn't been scoring a whole heck of a lot," Coach Ron Wilson said. "We've got to keep working at it in practice. We've got to bear down more. We're creating scoring chances; I couldn't be happier with the way we're playing.

"I think we're playing as well as any team in the league right now, it's just that some nights we haven't got the points we really deserve, so we just asked the guys to bear down more in practice and work on our goal-scoring skills."

The Capitals have an opportunity to move back above .500 in the next two weeks. They play five of their next six games against teams unlikely to make the postseason. After tonight's game against the Islanders they face Pittsburgh, Montreal, expansion Atlanta, and then play back-to-back games against New Jersey and the New York Rangers next weekend. If the playoffs started today, only New Jersey would qualify. However, the Capitals play only two of the next eight games at home; they are 3-8-1 on the road this season.

* Capitals Notes: The Capitals sent center Glen Metropolit to Portland and will recall a winger today, probably Jeff Toms, who recently recovered from hernia surgery, Alexandre Volchkov or Miika Elomo. . . . Defenseman Joe Reekie's bone bruise has kept him out of 13 of the last 15 games, but McPhee said he expects Reekie to start skating this week. Although Reekie is wearing a walking cast on his left foot, the foot is not fractured, McPhee said. . . . Forward Chris Simon was expected to skate over the weekend but did not, Wilson said. Simon has not skated in over a week because of a neck sprain and will not play this week, Wilson said.