The decision by Coach Bruce Boudreau that sent Mike Knuble from spending time among the top-six forwards to the fourth line has been an adjustment for the veteran winger, there’s no mistaking that.
Knuble, 39, spent his first two seasons as a Capital skating with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and now is in more of an energy role with Matt Hendricks and Jeff Halpern, but he’s sought to make the best of the opportunity he receives.
“It is an adjustment. That’s the way it’s looking like it’s going to be, but you can take pride in that every night,” Knuble said. “Every time you’re on the ice there’s a chance to do something good, a chance to contribute to the team. Does every guy on our bench want to be on the ice more? Of course. You want to be on the ice as much as you can and the trick is to realize every second out there is very valuable. You’ve got to do the best that you can and contribute to your team and whether it’s in a seven-minute span or 17.”
In four games on the fourth line Knuble has a goal and an assist but is a minus-4 with six shots on goal. He’s played at least 13 minutes and 32 seconds in each game with that unit and as much as 15:40. Knuble’s average ice time per game is 15:12, down from last season’s 17:52, and while part of that is the change in role it is also likely due to the more managed minutes and line matching Boudreau has instituted this season.
Regardless of the offensive statistics, Knuble seems to have an inherent chemistry with his fellow hard-working linemates Halpern and Hendricks. The trio was the Capitals’ best line in a 5-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes and the simple, gritty mentality all three forwards posses helped ease the transition.
Knuble’s presence can help make the fourth line more of a scoring threat and he’s also rubbing off on Hendricks, who has tried to fashion his game after the alternate captain.
“You want to call him a role player but on any other team he’s not playing on the fourth line, in my opinion,” Hendricks said. “He’s a thorn in the other team’s side, that’s for sure. It doesn’t matter which defensive pairing they put against him. He’s so big and strong, it’s like you could put a guy on his back and he’d still carry the puck to the net. It’s a lot of fun to watch. I enjoy playing with him.”
Where he plays and what precise role he serves doesn’t prevent Knuble from speaking his mind about what the team is doing well or poorly, though, as evidenced by his comments after the 5-2 loss to Dallas. His voice in the room and example on the ice carry significant weight throughout the dressing room and with the coaching staff.
Knuble’s unrestrained opinion after the defeat to the Stars understandably garners significant attention, but equally important is how he has responded to the demotion to the fourth line.
“I’m not naive to the fact that it’s a younger guy’s game,” Knuble said. “I’m very thrilled to still have a chance to contribute and still be on a solid team, a great team with the potential to do a lot of great things. If that’s going to be the role and that’s what I have to do, I have no problem doing it. I think we all believe we have a chance to achieve something great here so it makes the whole thing easier to accept and easier to deal with on a daily basis.”