Injured forwards Peter Bondra and Jan Bulis, two of the Washington Capitals' top offensive threats, skated with the team during practice yesterday, but Coach Ron Wilson said neither will play in games at Edmonton and Vancouver this week. Team officials were optimistic both could return Tuesday night but instead chose to proceed cautiously with a timetable for their return.
Bondra, the Capitals' leader with 13 goals in 25 games, had minor arthroscopic knee surgery two weeks ago to repair a ligament problem and skated with the team for the first time since the procedure. He remained on the ice for the full practice and impressed Wilson, who initially believed Bondra might be able to play. But after conferring with the training staff, they decided Bondra would remain home to continue working his left knee back to full strength. Bondra is confident he will be back in the lineup for the Dec. 27 game against Chicago.
"A small percent is not there yet," Bondra said. "And to try to be a hero, it doesn't make any sense to come back and play, so we'll take off these two games and try to get ready for the home game.
"And this way, in my head I will know I did the right thing and didn't try to press it or go back too early, and I believe I will be ready 100 percent with another week to work on it and get more strength in the knee. . . .
"I would say I'm 98 or 99 percent--it's just a small percentage, but sometimes you have to realize [missing] those two games might be saving you from being in trouble for the whole season. It's kind of a hard decision, but I know I am close and I'm excited and I am ready to do whatever it takes, but it's just not there yet. A couple more days definitely make a big difference."
Bondra said his knee feels better than it did before the surgery and he is regaining a full range of motion. The Capitals struggled to score goals without him, then regained their form in the first three games of this five-game trip, netting 11 goals.
Bulis has missed the last two games because of a groin injury and left the ice halfway through practice to continue his rehabilitation. He is not comfortable with his skating stride and did not want to risk further injury. Groin injuries are easily aggravated and, if they don't heal properly, can linger.
Bulis, 21, who is tied for second on the team with eight goals, was slated to return to his spot between the club's top wingers--Steve Konowalchuk and Richard Zednik--but will have to wait until after Christmas to do so. Zednik missed yesterday's practice with the flu, but Wilson said he will play tonight.
"I couldn't go 100 percent, and pretty much skating is my whole game," Bulis said. ". . . The last time I tried to play with an injury and couldn't skate, it didn't go too good. I don't want to do that again."
The injuries might turn out to have positive effects for the Capitals. With Bondra and Bulis out, Wilson had to alter his lines, and the unlikely combination of grinding wingers Chris Simon and Ulf Dahlen and skilled center Adam Oates clicked instantly, setting up or scoring six of Washington's seven goals over the weekend.
"We probably wouldn't have put those guys together" without the injuries, Wilson said.
Despite the injuries to Bondra and Bulis, the Capitals are happy to have their team almost completely healthy. They set a franchise record with 511 man-games lost last season, a major factor in their inability to reach the postseason.
"This hasn't happened since I've been here, going into the Christmas week and everybody can play," Wilson said. "It's great. That's a tribute to our trainer and strength coach and the program the guys have been following all year. It's impossible not to be banged up this time of year, I don't care what team you are. To be at this point with nobody out, or the injuries you have are very minor ones, is a real positive."
Capitals Notes: Center Michal Sivek, the 29th overall pick in last June's draft, will represent the Czech Republic in the upcoming world junior championships, the top teenage tournament in the world. Sivek, currently playing junior hockey in the Western Hockey League, is the only Washington draft pick participating in the event. . . . Five of Edmonton's 15 losses have come in overtime--the most in the NHL.