Winger Mike Knuble Is Capitals' Key Offseason Addition

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Washington Capitals' offseason strategy revolved around a single player and his specific skill set. Fortunately for them, Mike Knuble wanted to be a Capital as much as they wanted to see him crashing the crease in a red, white and blue jersey.

Only minutes after free agency opened on July 1, Washington had added the veteran winger they so desperately needed to complement their young cadre of skilled scorers -- and, perhaps, the final piece to the championship-caliber team General Manager George McPhee has been assembling for the past four seasons.

Although Knuble won't skate in a regular season game until Thursday night's opener in Boston, his impact on and off the ice has been considerable. He scored a team-high four goals in four preseason appearances, and Coach Bruce Boudreau has already tapped the 37-year-old forward as one of the team's alternate captains.

"Add the element that he brings, a presence in front that goalies have to contend with and try to look around, that's huge," defenseman Brian Pothier said. "That's exactly what we needed. He's made a career off that one talent."

Indeed, it wasn't the volume of goals that Knuble scored during the exhibitions that brought a smile to Boudreau's face. It was the manner in which the 6-foot-3, 223-pound Toronto native scored them.

In the preseason opener in Buffalo last month, Knuble knotted the contest late in the third period when he rushed the net, bowled over a Sabres defenseman and inadvertently redirected Nicklas Backstrom's cross-crease pass in with his thigh. Six nights later, just 2 minutes 36 seconds into the game against Chicago, Knuble made a beeline for the net and a rebound bounced in off his shin pad.

Neither goal made the highlight reel, but it's not Knuble's job to score pretty.

"That's why I was brought here," Knuble said. "They wanted somebody to crash the net for rebounds and be hanging around the net."

Over the past seven seasons, few power forwards have done that as well as Knuble. He has averaged nearly 27 goals per season, or three more than Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov combined to score for the Capitals last season.

His worth, however, will truly be measured in the playoffs, when flashy goals become scarce and ugly ones win games. Lacking a presence in front, the Capitals' offense, at times, stagnated last spring.

"Mike Knuble was a tremendous addition," said Pierre McGuire, a hockey analyst for NBC. "What guys like that do is make a seven-game series a little bit easier for players around them because they slam other bodies, and they understand what goes into playing in the playoffs because it's a different dynamic."

The Capitals' lack of a presence in front of the net was a particular problem early on in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal against the New York Rangers last spring. Boudreau addressed the issue, but nobody put it as succinctly as Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who said this after stymieing the Capitals for the first two games of the series:

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