After scoring just 11 points this season, including a drought lasting 27 games, Mike Knuble was a healthy scratch Thursday night based on performance for the first time in his three seasons with the Capitals. At 39 years old, there are some rumblings his career might be over. I hope not, because his lack of performance is not all on his shoulders.
Exhibit A: Knuble generated scoring chances.
Among the seven skaters who generated fewer scoring chance, all have at least as many goals as Knuble and five of them lit the lamp more often. Knuble converted on just 7 percent of his scoring chances, which is half the league average (14 percent). If he had more "puck luck" like Dennis Wideman (40 percent) or Marcus Johansson (22 percent) his offensive output looks a lot different.
Exhibit B: When Knuble got to play with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, they didn't produce either.
Before former head coach Bruce Boudreau relegated Knuble to fourth line duty, Knuble got some of the best ice time in the league: 70 percent starts in the offensive zone (OffZ%) during even-strength with superstars Ovechkin and Backstrom. As a trio they aimed 36 shots on net and had half of scoring chances (Scoring chance%) go in their favor, but none of the three scored a goal. When Backstrom and Ovechkin were paired with either Brouwer or Semin, they converted their shots (Sh%) closer to league average. That's just some bad luck for Knuble.
|Backstrom & Ovechkin with||OffZ%||Scoring chance%||Sh%|
Exhibit C: Since he came to Washington in 2009-10, the effectiveness of his linemates has gone down each year.
"What? How can you say that when he has played with mostly Ovechkin and Backstrom??"
Simple, if you look at Behind the Net's quality of teammates metric for both puck possession (Corsi Rel QoT) and goal differential (QualTeam) each has gotten worse.
Is some of that due to Knuble? Perhaps, but there can be no doubt that the play of the team around him has also slipped in recent years in both controlling the puck and scoring goals.
Knuble's value proposition in the NHL is pretty straightforward: a player who goes to the net and collects rebounds from the shots that his more skilled linemates generate, which is why he is such a fan favorite.
"Aside from being drawn to the low-key, high-impact role he can play on the ice, we like his professional story and his attitude," explains Sir Nathan of Knuble's Knights, a local fan club dedicated to Mike Knuble. "It's almost like cheering for the underdog."
If Knuble is used in a low-key, high-impact role again, whether in Washington or elsewhere, I have no doubt he can still contribute. Even this late in his career.