Whatever is wrong with Mike Knuble’s hand, you know it’s serious. This is a tough guy, a veteran right winger who played earlier this season with his broken jaw wired shut. So whatever is wrong with Knuble – it appears a bone somewhere in his right hand is broken – it’s not minor.
It’s also a closely-guarded secret. The Capitals aren’t saying. Knuble talked to reporters Thursday with his right hand tucked into his pocket. Friday, he skated early and did not participate in practice, and although his head was seen briefly poking around the door in the Caps’ locker room, his hand remained out of sight and had no comment. Sources close to his hand – his glove, his wrist, his remote control – were unavailable to comment as well.
After putting his team through an intense 40-minute workout Friday, Coach Bruce Boudreau confirmed that Knuble will miss today’s Game 5 against the New York Rangers at Verizon Center. He’ll be replaced again by Eric Fehr and Brooks Laich will move to the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. At least he shouldn’t have to sit at home like he did Wednesday night, forced to watch the agony and the ecstasy of his teammates during Game 4’s come-from-behind, double-overtime victory, feeling helpless and probably, at times, hopeless.
“Missing a playoff game, watching your team play, is much different than missing games in the regular season,” Knuble said Thursday of that experience. “It’s really hard to go through. Obviously, I was as low as they felt last night and as high as they were after, too.”
Or, as Matt Hendricks put it: “He wore a hat the whole next day, I think, because he pulled all his hair out.”
Knuble was third on the team in goals scored (24) during the regular season and added a playoff goal in Game 3 — right after he was hit in the hand by Mike Green’s slap shot. Seven of his regular-season goals came on the power play, where the Caps desperately need him.
But the Caps lose more than scoring with Knuble’s absence. They also lose a veteran leader whose skills and work ethic at age 38 inspire his younger teammates. (His older teammates? He doesn’t have any.)
“I don’t think you can one hundred percent replace him,” Hendricks said. “He brings a lot of intangibles to our team, not only on ice with his great playing ability and his goal-scoring ability and the way he’s [improved] his game the last month, two months, has been outstanding.
“But what he means for us also off the ice in the room. He’s an older guy, a leader, and to have Mike with us in the trenches, there’s not many people I’d rather follow than him.”
Knuble’s teammates can sympathize with his plight. Every injured athlete has been in his position. Matt Bradley missed 14 games in late December and January with a broken finger, including the Winter Classic against the Pittsburgh Penguins. When it’s a choice of playing hurt or watching your teammates play without you, Bradley said there’s really no choice.
“Definitely, watching is worse,” he said. “If you’re playing with your injury there might be pain, but at least you’re playing. You can deal with it, it’s fine. Having to watch a game with something like he has, it’s exactly like what I went through. It’s very tough because you want to play so badly but you just can’t do it.”
Ah, it’s exactly what Bradley went through? That sounds like a broken finger, which fits the clues we’ve been given. After all, if Knuble could hold a stick, he’d be playing.
Knuble indicated Thursday that he intends to be back during the postseason. With a three-games-to-one lead over the New York Rangers, the best gift his teammates can give him is a Game 5 win today and a chance for a few more days to recover. With his toughness, he probably won’t be out for long, right?
“I wouldn’t think so,” said Hendricks, then starting laughing and added, “I don’t even know what the injury is or what’s going on. No one does. I don’t even know if it is an injury. He might have a hangnail or something, I don’t know. Maybe he’s got chapped lips.”
Maybe. But just in case it’s not, Hendricks had better be ready for some payback once that hand heals.