Soon after he landed with the Chicago Blackhawks, his 499th career goal helped spoil the debut of new St. Louis Blues coach Andy Murray in a 3-2 victory on Tuesday night. “There’s so much excitement for me the last couple of days,” Bondra said after his first game of the season. “I don’t even think about the milestone. “I was afraid I would change the chemistry of the team, but I guess we took it well and thanks to all the guys who helped me.”
Bondra had 21 goals and 39 points in 60 games for the Thrashers last season, nursing a groin injury at the end. During his down time in Washington, D.C., he helped his daughter choose Georgetown for college, and said he needs to get in better condition.
“I’m definitely not in game shape, but I’m pretty close,” he said. “A couple of games will make a difference.”
Radim Vrbata had a goal and an assist in a three-goal flurry against Marek Schwarz, the Blues’ first-round pick in the 2004 draft who made his NHL debut. Schwarz stopped his first 17 shots before the Blackhawks scored three times in a span of four shots over 2:04 early in the final period.
Two of the goals came on the power play for Chicago, which entered in a 2-for-60 slump over 13 games. The Blues are among the most penalized teams in the NHL, ranking 26th, and Murray told his players after the game that they need to cut down on mistakes.
“We have to kill penalties at the start of the third period when we wanted to take the game to them,” Murray said. “Discipline has to certainly be a point we address.”
Christian Backman had a goal and an assist for the Blues, who have lost eight in a row and earned only one standings point in the skid. They’re last in the NHL with a 7-18-4 record and 18 points.
They’ve also lost six in a row at home and folded in this one after a strong start under Murray, who got a multi-year contract Monday on the same day that Mike Kitchen was fired. Doug Weight beat Nikolai Khabibulin on a deflection off his stick and skate with 1:27 left to cut the gap to one.
“I saw some things we did well and some things we need to work on, obviously,” Murray said “I saw some great efforts and I saw some players that I think need to give a little bit more.”
The Blackhawks are getting the jump from new coach Denis Savard, going 5-0-3 since he replaced Trent Yawney, that the Blues hope they’ll receive from their change to Murray. St. Louis has been outscored 22-9 during its home losing streak.
“We’re excited about where we’re going,” Weight said. “We’ve got to get there sooner or later, obviously.”
Marek, 20, got the chance to play because the Blues’ top two goalies, Manny Legace (concussion) and Curtis Sanford (groin) are out. Murray’s other big change in his first game was using veterans Bill Guerin and Keith Tkachuk on the penalty kill.
Penalties on three Blues veterans – Weight, Tkachuk and Jay McKee – opened the door for the Blackhawks in the third.
Bondra, who signed a free-agent deal with the Blackhawks on Sunday, scored his first goal of the season during a 5-on-3 power play at 3:22 of the third. Vrbata got his sixth with another man-advantage goal 30 seconds later, beating Schwarz between the pads from the left circle.
“We’ve struggled all year (on the power play) so I’m glad our guys came through to get us a win,” Savard said. “We’ve got some pretty good tools now. Bondra’s a good threat.”
Jeff Hamilton scored his sixth on a one-timer from the slot at 5:26.
Backman scored on a rebound during a power play at 15:18 of the second period to give the Blues a 1-0 lead. Khabibulin, starting for the 12th time in 13 games, made 19 saves.
Notes: Martin Rucinsky has an assist in each of the last four games for St. Louis. … Schwarz was the Blues’ first first-round pick to play in an NHL game since Backman in 2003. … Vrbata has four goals and three assists in five games against the Blues.