- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

ATLANTA Peter Bondra maintains there is not much difference this season than in previous ones, and coach Ron Wilson agrees.
But those who have watched the Washington Capitals' five-time All-Star over the years beg to disagree. Not that Bondra's overall play suffered in years past, but this season there appears to be something different maybe just the wing's approach to the game, though it's hard to put a finger on it.
There is more energy to his game, even though he is 33 now. There seems to be more involvement, even though he has never been afraid to stick his nose in places where it might not belong. He is still shooting twice as much as anybody else but he is scoring twice as much, so there are no complaints.
Before last night's games he was second in the league in scoring with 13 points, tied for the league lead in goals scored with nine, led the NHL in power-play scores with six and power-play points with eight, and only Mark Parrish of the New York Islanders had more than Bondra's two game-winning scores (although both of Bondra's came in overtime, which leads the league in that unofficial statistic).
Last year Bondra had five goals and seven points in the Caps' first 10 games, and the team went 1-6-3. This season the Caps are 5-4-1 and have played just two games at home.
"The start? Yes, even for the team it's better than last year," Bondra said before practice yesterday. "But what's different? I, ah, well, we gained the best player in the world [Jaromir Jagr], and the confidence is there. Look at myself … yeah, it is different, it kind of feels good to play right now."
Jagr has made a very big difference (four goals, seven points in seven games and getting better by the period now that his health is returning) not only in his contributions but by opening up the ice for everybody else. Opponents can't simultaneously pay attention to the best player in the world and watch the rest of the Caps as closely as they might like, so somebody has to be open. Often it has been Bondra.
Bondra talked about "setting the tone for the season with my performance," a slightly different way of saying what others have that this will be a special year for the Caps. Even before training camp, players were pointing to the playoffs and not having any missteps this time around.
"Five years back, I was kind of hoping to score 50 goals [he has twice] or have a good season in goals, but now the Stanley Cup is pretty much the only thing I would like to have," Bondra said. "I will do everything to make sure we have a chance to win, and staying healthy is one of those goals. But you can work on yourself hard and prepare yourself all the time off the ice, do exercises and your chances are better to stay healthy."
Bondra is nearing a plateau that others care more about then he apparently does. Bondra has 391 goals with the Caps, six short of tying Mike Gartner's all-time club record, and is closing in on 400, a figure only 19 active players have reached.
"Now that's just a number, and I hope I'm not planning to retire soon," Bondra said, "so maybe when I finish playing I can look at those numbers and I can tell you more, but right now they're just numbers. It's kind of nice, but it doesn't mean a whole lot."
A year ago, Bondra was labeled a disgruntled player, one who asked to be traded and one who had differences with Wilson.
He agreed to play his hardest while a deal was pursued; instead, he signed a long-term contract and will probably retire as a Cap. Hockey became a game again instead of a chore.
"It's fun this year, yes, but the year we went to the finals [1998] was a lot of fun, too, the experience of going through the playoffs, and I thought we played well all year. But it's a long season, you feel good now but you can't forget to work hard because you're going to have your ups and downs," Bondra said.
That is sort of the way Wilson is looking at things right now, Bondra being on the upside and riding a wave that will eventually break.
"The puck's going in for Peter right now, but he's a very streaky scorer over the years and he's in one of those good streaks right now that goal-scorers get themselves in," Wilson said. "He's profiting from a very strong power play he's got nine goals, six of them on the power play, let's not forget that and he's getting a little bit more open because of the presence of Jaromir in the lineup. When you start to feel good about yourself, positive things happen.
"But I don't see any difference in his game from last year except the puck's going in right now. He's on one of those streaks right now; he scores goals in bunches, always has. His play has been steady, he's played really well in our end."
Could it be that Bondra is right, that it might be the start of something big?
If the first 10 games are any indication, that could be the case.

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