- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 29, 2001

Peter Bondra grabbed a piece of Washington Capitals history last night, but in the process he committed a blunder that led to a Buffalo victory, making it a bittersweet evening at best.

Bondra scored his 397th goal, tying Mike Gartner for most goals in a Caps career, but had a power play pass intercepted and turned into a shorthanded goal as the Sabres never trailed en route to an easy 5-2 victory at MCI Center.

Bondra, however, was hardly the only person responsible for the defeat. There were times, especially early in the game, when Buffalo treated the Caps like a junior team, hardly paying them any attention as they brushed past on the way to unhindered confrontations with Olie Kolzig. The goalie had almost no help in clearing the crease, the same sorry performance as the previous night in a 5-5 tie against the New York Islanders.

"There's guys in there and we got to try to move them and give Olie a chance," defenseman Brendan Witt said. "He can't see through guys."

Witt, the team captain, called his club's first-period performance "inexcusable. We're professionals here and it shows that we weren't mentally ready, and they were. We can't use the excuse about playing [Tuesday] night, because they did, too.

Said coach Ron Wilson: "We made a couple critical errors that allowed them to score. We blew coverage, and you blow a game like that."

The slim midweek crowd at MCI Center stood and applauded when Bondra's achievement was announced, but the taste must have been sour.

"I feel [the accomplishment] is great, but we lost the game so it doesn't make a difference," Bondra said. "I'm a little disappointed, definitely."

Bondra's historic goal came at 11:50 of the second period, a booming slap shot from just inside the blue line with the Caps on a power play. It was the third straight game in which he has had a goal.

But that followed by seconds the huge passing blunder that resulted in Buffalo's shorthanded goal. All Bondra's goal did was nullify the damage he had done seconds earlier.

Gartner played for the Caps from the start of the 1979-80 season until he was traded to the Minnesota North Stars on March 7, 1989. He scored 397 goals in 758 games, a slightly faster rate than Bondra. He also finished his Caps career with 789 points, which is the club record and about 100 more than Bondra has at the moment. Gartner was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame earlier this month after scoring 708 goals in his 19-year career.

Bondra has been chasing Gartner since his first Cap and first NHL game, Oct. 5, 1990. His first goal came 12 days later during a 3-2 loss against Chris Terreri and New Jersey. He twice has scored more than 50 goals 1995-96 and 1997-98 and twice led or tied for the league's goal scoring title.

There has been some turbulence in his 12 years in Washington, especially during the summer of 2000 when he asked for a trade. He came to an agreement with the team during the course of the season and responded with 45 goals. His career has been marked by streaks which he cannot explain, control or understand.

Bondra's goal came with an assist to Adam Oates, who is now just one point shy of 1,300 in his career, a lofty plateau few have reached.

Washington's first goal came from defenseman Ken Klee, his first of the season, and was similar to Bondra's a heavy slap shot from the blue line that snaked through players screening goalie Martin Biron.

The Caps embarrassed themselves in the first period and Buffalo made them pay. Maxim Afinogenov turned Joe Reekie inside out in skating past him 1:42 into the game, got in alone on Kolzig and put his own rebound into the top of the net. It took a replay to show the puck actually had entered the cage.

At 5:36 Slava Kozlov caught Reekie leaning the wrong way, creating a breakaway and scored easily. Slava Satan scored the shorthanded goal when Bondra's errant pass to Sylvain Cote was intercepted, and light-scoring defenseman Jay McKee added the insurance.


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