But no one thought that someone would be Mike Knuble.
The 2011-12 NHL regular season was the longest of Mike Knuble’s career. Production from the 14-year veteran was down from the beginning. As he began to struggle in the early stages of the season, Knuble was demoted by Bruce Boudreau, head coach at the time. Boudreau took Knuble off the top line, where he had made a career out of playing alongside his team’s best forwards. Knuble was no longer partnered with the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin. Instead, he was relegated to the fourth line.
This move did not help much either. By the time Boudreau was fired on November 28th, Knuble had only two goals, with none since October 29th.
Bruce Boudreau was replaced by former Capital great Dale Hunter, who was even tougher on Mike Knuble than his predecessor. Hunter made Knuble a healthy scratch for 10 games, beginning right before the trade deadline. Knuble publicly voiced his displeasure and even stated that he would be willing to accept a trade, if that’s what it took to play hockey.
Knuble was not traded and played 14 of the last 15 games of the season. But he would finish with only six goals, marking the first time since the 2001-02 season that he did not score at least 20 goals.
As the playoffs began, Mike Knuble was once again a question mark. He was scratched for the first three games of the Capitals’ Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.
But when first-line center Nicklas Backstrom was suspended for Game 4 after cross checking Boson Bruins forward Rich Peverley at the end of Game 3, Dale Hunter needed another forward in the lineup. He called on Mike Knuble, and the old veteran answered.
Knuble played well enough in a crucial Game 4 win in D.C. to suit up for Game 5, when he scored his first goal of the playoffs in an even bigger win up in Boston. Joel Ward assisted on Knuble’s go-ahead goal to begin the third period, and the Caps would eventually win on Troy Brouwer’s late power-play goal.
Mike Knuble would come up even bigger in the deciding game of the series, after the Bruins avoided elimination with an overtime win in Game 6. Back in Boston, the game went to overtime for the fourth time in the series.
On a seemingly harmless play early in the extra session, Knuble blocked a dump-in attempt by Benoit Pouliot. The puck deadened right at Knuble’s feet, and he suddenly had plenty of open ice in front of him as Boston was making a line change. Knuble raced into the Boston zone on a semi-breakaway, and, being the good power forward that he is, Mike went hard to the net and shoved a backhanded shot at Tim Thomas’ pads. The puck rebounded straight past Mike Knuble and the nearby Boston defenders but went right to Joel Ward. Knuble’s partner in crime slapped the puck past Thomas for the series-winning goal.
Knuble has not slowed down so far in the conference semifinal series, either. Monday night in Game 2 against the New York Rangers, Mike Knuble once again teamed up with his wingman Joel Ward, as the dynamic duo connected on a tic-tac-toe passing play to score the first goal of the game.
In the third period, Knuble was again in the center of the action but for all the wrong reasons. Attempting to play the puck out of mid-air, Knuble slapped Rangers captain Ryan Callahan in the face with his stick, earning a two-minute minor for high-sticking. The Rangers scored on the resulting power play to tie the game. But Knuble made sure to atone for his mistake.
After Alex Ovechkin scored the go-ahead goal with 7:27 left, the Caps needed to waste time and make the Rangers work all 200 feet of the rink as often as possible. With a couple minutes left in the game, the Capitals cleared the puck out of their own zone, but the puck was headed towards an icing call.
Not known for his speed, Knuble outraced Rangers defender Michael del Zotto, while both players were at the end of their shift. Knuble won the race and prevented icing, avoiding a defensive zone faceoff for the Capitals. This helped keep the Rangers from setting up their offense, and as a result the Broadway Blue Shirts could not mount a comeback. The Capitals prevailed and return home for Game 3 on Wednesday night with the series tied at one game apiece.
Mike Knuble is doing both the big things and the little things for the Washington Capitals in the playoffs.