Knuble Set To Start In Familiar Spot

Posted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel

From a coaching standpoint, one of the big benefits of NHL training camp is the ability to use the exhibition game slate as something of a laboratory. Coaches spend the off-season rolling over possible line combinations in their heads, wondering to themselves what combinations might deliver some degree of chemistry. Pre-season games that have no meaning in the standings can be a safe proving (or disproving) ground for these lineup notions Lineups and line combinations are and have always been a very, very fluid thing during training camp, but that doesn’t stop the media from breathlessly reporting each new combo and speculating on how long said combo might remain together. Given this background, it’s interesting how eager some in these parts were to anoint player x or player y as the team’s new top-line right wing this fall. Especially when the incumbent hadn’t done anything to merit replacement. The incumbent of course, is Mike Knuble, he of the eight straight seasons with 20 or more goals. At 39, Knuble is still four years younger than Boston’s Mark Recchi was when he hoisted the Stanley Cup high on his shoulders last spring. As the league’s oldest player, Recchi put up respectable totals of 14 goals and 48 points during the 2010-11 regular season. He added five goals and 14 points in 25 playoff contests. You know how media outlets have pre-written obituaries for prominent but elderly or aging celebrities? The hockey media is no different. When a player gets on the other side of 35, he can expect the briefest of slumps to bring a few writers out of the woodwork, ready to start preparing his last rites. Knuble was largely ignored by the media this fall as the rush came to christen Joel Ward or Troy Brouwer as the team’s new first line winger on the starboard side. We know of coach Bruce Boudreau’s proclivity to juggle and change lines, but Boudreau said early in camp that he planned on having his opening night combos on the ice for practice on Tue. Oct. 4. Sure enough, on that morning, Knuble was in his familiar red practice sweater skating in his customary spot alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. That trio hadn’t skated together in any of the Caps’ seven pre-season games, but here they were getting ready for the first game that counts, Saturday night’s season opener against the Carolina Hurricanes. “The locker room is down to our group, the guys who are going to be here to start the season,” notes Knuble. “Granted, the lines will be changing around a lot at various points. But this will be how we start. I don’t know how long he’ll let it go.” In each of Knuble’s two seasons in Washington, he has gotten out to a slow start before rallying late and achieving his usual 20-goal – and then some – output. He can’t control who he plays with, but his track record shows that when he plays with skilled players, he a consistently solid complementary player who delivers. “You come in and you’re prepared for anything,” says Knuble of this fall’s camp. “Whatever happened last year doesn’t guarantee [anything]. We’ve had some success the last couple of years and it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’re all going to play together again. But at least it’s something Bruce is going to start with. But things will change, lines will change. “For a lot of games this season, I think our fans will see different groups of guys together and maybe even through the course of a game he’ll change things. But it will be that way for a while. As a player, you just have to roll with it and do the best you can. And when you get a chance to play with certain [players] and play on the power play, you’ve got to try and make the best of it and show that you’re still capable of doing it.” To a man, every one of Washington’s top offensive weapons is coming off a down year as far as offensive totals go. Knuble dipped from 29 (in 2009-10) to 24 goals last season, but his was one of the smallest drop-offs on the team. That at team-wide dip is due in part to the team’s change to a more defensively responsible system about a third of the way through the ’10-11 campaign. But that’s not the only reason, either. “It goes back to talking about the style of play,” says Knuble. “Or maybe it’s even as simple to explain as our power play being down. If the power play is a little bit better, that’s more points for our skill guys and our top guys. Then we’re not all talking about that. “It’s hard to say. I don’t think we’re dwelling on that. If anybody had a down year last year, I don’t think they’re worried about it carrying over into this year. It’s fresh; it’s new. I think that’s the great thing. It’s the rebirth of your season. You’re starting over. Everybody is at zeroes and you’re starting again. You worry about the present now, and you’ve got to worry about your upcoming season. That’s all.”

next up:

Neuvy Gets Net for Opening Night

January 14, 2013

I wasn't surprised when I learned earlier this week that Caps coach Bruce Boudreau planned to start goaltender Michal Neuvirth in Saturday's season opener against the Carolina Hurricanes. Neuvirth won 27 games for the Capitals last season, carried the team early in the campaign when he was arguably

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