Knuble Sits One OutPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
On July 1, 2009, the Capitals inked free-agent right wing Mike Knuble to a two-year contract. Caps general manager George McPhee was pointed in his remarks afterwards on why Washington had gone after Knuble – to play alongside and complement Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. “I’m happy with the way we’ve played,” said McPhee at the time. “We just felt that we needed someone else – and on that line in particular – that will go to the net. Backstrom and Ovechkin are going to have the puck a lot and we need someone around the net to do some of the dirty work. Mike’s made his living there. He’s done a real good job in that regard. He’s been remarkably consistent in the number of games he played and the number of goals he scored in the last five or six years.” For his part, Knuble also clearly understood what his role would be here in D.C. “I know what I do well,” said Knuble. “I complement players. I’ve been able to be successful and they’ve been able to be successful. I think I’ve just kind of figured that out and figured out what I do well, and that is to be hanging around the net and winning puck battles and working hard for the other guys on the line.” For the last two seasons, Knuble kept on keeping on. He scored 29 goals and 53 points in 69 games with Washington in 2009-10 and followed up with 24 goals and 40 points in 79 games last season. Knuble played mostly with Ovechkin and Backstrom, and was also a valued member of both the penalty-killing and power-play units. Last season with the eighth in a row in which Knuble delivered 20 or more goals. The Caps were happy with his performance, and Knuble was happy here in the District. The two sides agreed on a one-year contract extension for the 2011-12 campaign and Knuble inked it last April. Knuble was among the Caps’ top six forwards at the start of this season, but Troy Brouwer supplanted him on top line with Backstrom and Ovechkin. Even so, Knuble produced six points (two goals, four assists) in the season’s first nine games. The Caps were 7-2 in those games. In the middle of that ninth game, Knuble was dropped to the fourth line. Except for an odd game or an odd shift here or there, he has been on the third or fourth line since. The self-described “complementary player” is complementing a different level of player, and the results have been similar to what they were early in Knuble’s career, when he played almost exclusively on the fourth line. In 44 games since being dropped down in the Washington line-up, Knuble has just five points (one goal, four assists). He is a minus-16 during that span (and minus-6 in his last eight games), and has not scored a goal in 27 games. Knuble is currently in the midst of an 11-game streak in which he has not recorded a point. Since being dropped to the fourth line on Oct. 29, Knuble has had some games in which he has played 18, 19 and 20 minutes. He has also had games in which he has played 8, 9 and 11 minutes. What he hasn’t had is many games in which he has played with top offensive talent, which is how he strung together those eight straight 20-goal seasons. Even when the Caps were struggling offensively – they scored exactly one goal in nine games of a 15-game span from mid-November to mid-December – Knuble remained slotted on the wing of the third or fourth line. Tonight, he’ll get no ice time. Knuble is a healthy scratch for the first time since early in the 2002-03 season when he was a member of the Boston Bruins. Every athlete reaches the end of the line at some point. Knuble is just months shy of his 40th birthday, so it’s not unreasonable to think that he has slowed down to the point where significant offensive contributions can no longer be expected. Knuble started his NHL career as a fourth-liner who was in and out of the lineup and produced sporadically for several seasons. But once he got a chance to play with top-line talent, he was a top-line complementary player for eight years, and a very successful one. It’s kind of tough to see him sitting out tonight without having been given a game or two at doing what he did so well for eight years, and for the first month of this season to boot.
In last night’s excruciating 3-2 skills loss to the Winnipeg Jets, the postgame stats sheet shows the Caps had five power play chances. It’s the most power play chances the Caps have had in a single game since they went 4-for-6 with the extra man against Toronto on Dec. 9. The first of those