For the first time in his three seasons with the Capitals, veteran Mike Knuble will be a healthy scratch based on his performance and will watch tonight’s game against the Winnipeg Jets from the Verizon Center press box.
“It’s always hard to do,” Coach Dale Hunter said, “But you put [Jay] Beagle in [for] more speed. Mike hasn’t scored in a while, figured get him up top and watch the game.”
Knuble hasn’t scored in the past 27 games – a stretch that dates back to Dec. 5 – and has seen his offensive production dip along with his ice time and role among the top six forwards. His last point was an assist on Jan. 13 against Tampa Bay, 11 games ago.
But the 39-year-old remains respected as one of the more vocal leaders in the Capitals’ dressing room, so it was a bit surprising to see Knuble taking part in the scratches skate with Washington’s assistant coaches, back-up goaltender Michal Neuvirth and John Erskine.
Hunter admitted Knuble’s stature as a leader makes the decision to sit him a tough one.
“We know he’s a team leader and you see he worked out hard out here [for the scratches skate]; that’s what leadership’s all about,” Hunter said. “We’re just gonna add more team speed and he’s the odd man out.”
Jay Beagle, who was a healthy scratch the past five games, will be in the lineup for the first time since Jan. 24 against Boston.
The last time Knuble is believed to have been healthy scratch as a Capital came on April 9, 2010, when then-coach Bruce Boudreau was resting players down the stretch in the regular season after the team secured a playoff berth.
This season hasn’t been an easy one for Knuble, as evidenced by his team-worst minus-14 rating with only three goals and eight assists through 53 games. Even before the coaching change in late November, the veteran winger saw his role shift from that of a complementary player on the top two lines to that of a fourth-line grinder.
His ice time and particular assignments on any given night have continued to fluctuate and, after seeing an increase in ice time throughout January, Knuble played the past two games on the fourth line. He played no more than 10 minutes 7 seconds in either outing.
Knuble, known for his generally affable nature, politely declined to comment to reporters this morning with a “not today, guys.”
“I’ve been through it and if you played hockey you’ve been through it. You don’t like it,” Hunter said. “That’s the way you want the guy to react. He can’t say, ‘Oh it’s fine.’ He doesn’t like it, but it’s part of hockey.”