Mike Knuble has always maintained that he’s been able to excel in a complementary role alongside a team’s most talented players. He’s been given that opportunity for the majority of the past eight seasons, but for the better part of the past two months, Knuble has seen his spot switch to one among the bottom six forwards.
The veteran right wing was first placed in a fourth-line role by former coach Bruce Boudreau following Washington’s 7-4 loss to Vancouver on Oct. 29. Since Coach Dale Hunter took the reigns in late November, Knuble has occupied a spot among the bottom six forwards exclusively, usually on the fourth line.
It’s possible Knuble could see that change on Tuesday against Calgary, though, particularly if Alexander Semin is unable to play. Semin missed Monday’s practice and in his absence, Knuble was moved to the second line.
Knuble’s ice time hasn’t exceeded 12 minutes and 11 seconds in any of the past eight games and in the last six he has seen a total of six seconds of power play time. It’s not an easy subject for the 39-year-old, who reached the milestone of 1,000 games played on Dec. 20, to discuss.
“It’s just the way things have shaken out,” Knuble said. “To be honest, sure it’s frustrating because I haven’t been there in the last eight, nine, 10 years. I’ve had some good years in the league….We’ve talked a little bit about it and I feel you’ve just gotta kinda roll with what happens and do whatever you can when you’re out there. It’s different, that’s for sure.”
As the Capitals’ experimented with different line combinations looking for the appropriate mix of defensive responsibility and offensive potential recently, Knuble hasn’t been among the combinations for the top two group. Knuble is the oldest player on the team and may not possess the same speed he had in his prime, but his game of driving the net and being strong in the corners would seem to play into the Capitals’ system.
Asked about Knuble’s role with the team and whether he would like to see the veteran alter or improve his game in a specific regard, Hunter said it’s just the way the lineup stands at the moment.
“It’s always a feel for it. Whenever somebody, [Jason Chimera’s] in the box or [Troy Brouwer] goes in the box for five minutes he’s the one that moves up. He’s right there. I know he’s reliable he’s a veteran he knows how to play,” Hunter said. “It’s just where he is. Everything changes all the time. There’s nothing set in cement, I know he can play with the better players and on the fourth line. He’s been playing well down there with the younger players too and teaching them I think he’s a versatile guy and he can play all over.”
Through 37 games this season, Knuble has three goals, nine points and a minus-8 rating. While this season may not be going the way he envisioned, Knuble will work to do the most that he can with whatever position he is given.
“You can say look what I’ve done in the past but at the same time, it’s like well times change,” Knuble said. “It’s just my role right now. It has been awhile but you just keep going and work hard in practice you try and stay ready as best you can and I thought [against Buffalo Friday] I had a couple good chances. They’re just fewer and far between, unlike the chances that you got before.”