Dave's Take: Gabby silenced

Posted on: Tuesday 11/29/2011 7:31am By djohnson

Dave Johnson, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - It is ironic that a coach nicknamed Gabby for being talkative was no longer being heard.

With six losses in eight games the Washington Capitals had clearly tuned out Bruce Boudreau and he was fired on Monday. The only thing that eases some of the sting over Boudreau’s ouster is that his replacement  is Dale Hunter.

Hunter is one of only four Capitals’ players to have his number retired, and for so many seasons he was truly the heart and soul of the team. As a player Hunter never took a shift off and helped the Capitals to their only Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1998.

The Capitals need a push from Hunter, but it should not have come to this. This is a Capitals team that suffered another early playoff exit last spring and talked of the need to be more accountable.

Boudreau tried to hold the team accountable and was not afraid to bench stars including Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. Unfortunately, accountability for the Capitals had an expiration date. After a 7-0 start to the season, the Caps had been reduced to lifeless passengers in Saturday’s 5-1 loss to Buffalo.

It’s impossible not to feel bad for Boudreau. He was likeable and passed the “beer test”; a guy you would love to have a beer and a sandwich with. Being the Capitals head coach was Boudreau’s dream job after paying his dues coaching in the minors for over a decade.

It should not have come to this and now the Capitals’ players have to look at themselves in the mirror. In their reflection the players will see Hunter standing behind them and if that doesn’t get this team moving forward then this team has bigger issues.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Former Caps captain would consider NHL return as a coach

Posted on: Monday 11/28/2011 3:50am

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Former Capitals captain Dale Hunter joined an elite group Saturday, becoming just the 10th coach in Ontario Hockey League history to reach 450 career wins.

Hunter's London Knights beat the Erie Otters 7-2 Saturday, improving to a league-best 19-5-1.

Minutes after Hunter's milestone win, the Capitals left Buffalo's First Niagara Center following yet another humbling defeat - 5-1 against a depleted Sabres team that was missing nine players from its opening night roster.

It was Washington's fourth straight loss on the road and their tenth loss in 15 games overall following a 7-0 start to the season.

The Capitals' prolonged slump has led to growing speculation - on both sides of the border - that a team that began the year with Stanley Cup expectations could be headed towards a coaching change.

Rogers Sportsnet in Canada suggested this week that Hunter is worthy of consideration.

The 51-year-old Hunter is now the OHL's third longest tenured head coach having worked behind the Knights' bench since 2001.

Brothers Dale and Mark Hunter purchased the Knights in 2000, and now in his 11th season as the club's head coach, Dale is widely considered one of the game's best coaches yet to guide a professional team.

"It would be pretty nice to see somebody like Dale Hunter [return to the NHL]," former Capitals general manager David Poile told WTOP unsolicited in 2009.

"He's a very successful coach in junior hockey and I think he's a guy we should be keeping our eyes on for future NHL coaching possibilities. Dale was a tremendous player, a great player for the Caps and also a great student of the game and we can see that now with his successful coaching in the junior ranks."

Hunter retired in 1999 after a 19-year NHL career - including parts of 12 seasons in Washington - and he is one of four former Capitals to have had their jerseys raised to the Verizon Center rafters.

When WTOP brought Poile's endorsement of Hunter to his attention, the three-time OHL Coach of the Year didn't beat around the bush.

"Yeah definitely I think I would look into it," Hunter said in a phone interview of a possible return to the NHL.

"It takes experience to coach and I've been coaching here for [ten] years with the London Knights. Definitely I watch a lot of NHL games - it's a great game, the NHL is the elite level and my one goal that I never reached as a player - I came close once with the Caps [in 1998] - is to win a Stanley Cup. It would be awesome whether coaching or playing."

In addition to developing No. 1 picks Rick Nash (2002) and Patrick Kane (2007), Hunter also led the Knights to the 2005 Memorial Cup (Canada's junior hockey national championship).

It's also no secret that Hunter remains close with the Capitals organization and has maintained a working relationship with GM George McPhee.

When the Capitals acquired former London Knights defenseman Dennis Wideman at last year's Trade Deadline, McPhee sought Hunter's endorsement before pulling the trigger on the deal.

Wideman played for Hunter from 2001-04 while fellow Caps defenseman John Carlson manned in Knights' blue line during the 2008-09 campaign.

"Everyone knows what type of player Dale was, and how much he means to the franchise," Wideman told reporters the day he was acquired from the Florida Panthers.

"He always said positive things with the way [the Capitals] treat their players and moving forward how they're trying to build the team. I had the pleasure of playing for Dale for three years and just playing for him and his brother Mark got me to where I am today."

The Capitals return to Verizon Center Tuesday against the St. Louis Blues at 7:05. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 6:45 on Federal News Radio - WFED 1500 AM & wfed.com.

Follow WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2011 by WOTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

SPORTS: Can't blame Caps performance on tryptophan

Posted on: Monday 11/28/2011 3:46am By jwarner

Jonathan Warner, wtop.com

The Capitals ugly, uninspired play didn’t just start this Thanksgiving weekend.  It goes back to their last 15 games.

After a franchise record 7-0 start, the Caps have gone 5-10,  giving up at least four goals in seven of those losses – including seven goals twice.

It’s been especially ugly on the road where the Caps have lost four straight and seven of the last nine.

What’s going wrong?  Everything.

The defense is a sieve, the goaltending soft, scoring erratic and the necessary energy  M.I.A.

Who’s to  blame?  Everybody.

Accountability was supposed to be the operative word this season.  Apparently it hasn’t been taken to heart.  Coach Bruce Boudreau has taken a tougher stand this season, and there  seems to be a backlash.

Have they tuned him out?  If so, the second-quickest NHL coach to 200 wins could be gone.

How did this happen?

When Bruce was summoned from Hershey on Thanksgiving, 2007, he was a known commodity, winning the Calder Cup on the Hershey Bears with about half the players in the Caps locker room.  Now, only three of those players remain:  Brooks Laich, Mike Green, and Jeff Schultz.  The rest of the team hasn’t advanced past the second round of the NHL playoffs under Boudreau.

Maybe they have doubts about his ability to take them to the next level, or maybe this team isn’t as good or as tough as we thought.

When a team struggles, you look to see how it’s top players are fairing.  Alex Ovechkin has to take a lot of blame for what’s going on.   His play directly mirrors what’s happening to the Capitals with one goal and two assists over the past eight games.  The Caps are 2-6 during that span.  Ovi wasn’t Ovi last year when he scored a career-low 32 goals, and it’s carried over to this season.  He has eight in 22-games with a plus/minus ratio of minus-7.

If the Captain isn’t inspired, how can he lead the rest of the team?

The Capitals managed to rebound from their ugly December last year, changing their style of play and vaulting to the top of the Eastern Conference for the  second-straight year.  But, do they have it in them again, or do other changes have to be made?

We’ll find out very quickly.  The Capitals host St. Louis on Tuesday and Pittsburgh on Thursday.  The Blues are 7-1-2 since Ken Hitchcock took over as coach, while the Penguins have the best record in the NHL.

Oh, and that Sidney Crosby guy is back as well for the Pens.

Follow Jonathan Warner on Twitter @jonwarnerWTOP.

Lack of team discipline haunts the Caps

Posted on: Wednesday 11/23/2011 12:33pm

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Alexander Semin will return to the Capitals lineup tonight against Winnipeg after sitting Monday's 4-3 win over Phoenix as a healthy scratch.

Semin was relegated to the Verizon Center press box for the first time since his rookie season due, in part, to his undisciplined play through the first 18 games this year and his lack of finish.

The former 40-goal scorer has been called for a team-high 14 minor penalties while chipping in just four goals and nine points.

"He's taken penalties seven games in a row," head coach Bruce Boudreau said Monday. "At some point you have to be accountable for your errors. We don't like doing those things to people that are this talented, but everybody's got to know that everybody's accountable."

Accountability is again the word of the day as Boudreau confirmed that Joel Ward will be a healthy scratch tonight after he overslept yesterday.

"They've got to be the rules for everybody," Boudreau said. "It's an unfortunate thing he overslept, and he missed [the meeting]."

Boudreau acknowledged that if one of his players had overslept or missed a meeting in years past, it likely would have been dealt with by fining him.

The decision to scratch Ward is another example of Boudreau's attempt to change what has been described as a "country club atmosphere" inside the Caps dressing room.

"I have to pay the consequences," Ward said. "I understand that it's part of the team rules. It was written and I just made the mistake of sleeping in."

In 19 games this season, Ward has four goals and eight points while playing primarily on a shutdown line with Jason Chimera and Brooks Laich.

"He understands the rules," Boudreau said. "He's a good team guy and he feels bad about it, but he knows the rules."

John Erskine will also miss tonight's game as he continues to nurse his surgically repaired shoulder, which he reinjured at practice Sunday. Erskine is considered day-to-day and could return to the Caps lineup as early as Friday against the Rangers.

Catch the Capitals and Jets Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 6:45 p.m. on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM & www.wfed.com.

Follow WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Boudreau sees opportunity for Caps

Posted on: Monday 11/21/2011 8:45am

Ben Raby, wtop.com

With six of their next seven games at home, Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau sees an opportunity for his team to snap out of its recent funk.

The Caps (10-7-1) returned to the Kettler Capitals Iceplex Sunday afternoon, following a winless three-game road trip in which Washington was outscored 14-3 in Nashville, Winnipeg and Toronto.

The Capitals will look to rebound Monday in their only meeting of the season against the Phoenix Coyotes (Pregame at 6:45 on WFED 1500AM & www.wfed.com.

Overall the Capitals have lost four straight and six of their last seven games to fall to second place in the Southeast Division, two points behind the Florida Panthers (10-6-3).

"We know we haven't played our best hockey," said Capitals forward Brooks Laich. "One thing we've got to do is cut down on the goals against. We have to stop getting scored on.

"It might sound weird, but you start scoring goals from defensive hockey. When you pay the price, when you do things right defensively… you end up getting rewarded offensively. That's where our game has to be built up from."

It's no secret that the Capitals have struggled in all three zones of late as they have been outscored 27-13 in the last seven games.

The Capitals are also scoreless in their last 25 power play opportunities and Alex Ovechkin has just one goal in his last six games with a minus-seven rating over that span. The Caps' captain leads the team with seven goals on the season, but is still searching for his first tally on home ice.

For Phoenix, Monday's meeting with the Caps is the finale of a five-game road trip which has seen the Coyotes win three of four so far.

SITTING SEMIN?

Alexander Semin found himself in a rare position at Sunday's practice - skating as an extra on the Caps' fourth line alongside Matt Hendricks, Jeff Halpern and Mathieu Perreault.

Semin has four goals in 18 games this season, nowhere near the 13 he scored through 18 games last season. At this point a year ago, Semin already had two hat-tricks and five multi-point games.

"People don't realize [Semin] tries," Boudreau said. "He's not used to not scoring goals. At this time last year he might have had 13 or 14 goals… So when you're stuck on four goals you do things that you probably wouldn't normally do. And you try to do too much and be too cute to get the perfect goal."

Despite his efforts, Semin's early season struggles have been further compounded by his frequent trips to the penalty box. Fourteen times this season Semin has been called for a two-minute minor penalty- second most in the NHL behind only Anaheim's Corey Perry (15).

Semin did not see the ice in the third period of the Capitals 3-1 in New Jersey two Fridays ago, but his rotating into the fourth line at Sunday's practice suggests that he could be a healthy scratch against Phoenix.

"Infer what you want," Boudreau said. "If everybody's healthy two guys got to sit so we have to figure out who it's going to be."

ORLOV SET TO MAKE NHL DEBUT:

With defenseman Mike Green still sidelined (groin) and the Caps struggling in their own end, the club announced Sunday that they have recalled prospect Dmitry Orlov from AHL Hershey.

It is unlikely the Capitals would have promoted Orlov with his $900,000 NHL salary counting against the cap if they were not intending on dressing him Monday against Phoenix.

Orlov, 20, is a puck moving defenseman with NHL-caliber speed and a heavy shot. In 15 AHL games this season the 6-foot, 210-pound Orlov has four goals and nine points.

"We just thought we needed a little shake up," Boudreau explained. "He's just somebody with a little more energy from the backend."

Boudreau also said that according to Hershey head coach Mark French, Orlov has been "by far" the Bears best defenseman this season.

If Orlov plays Monday, Jeff Schultz is a likely candidate to sit.

ON THE FARM:

Like the Capitals, the Hershey Bears are also on a four-game losing streak. The Bears dropped a pair of shootouts this weekend, 3-2 Friday in Syracuse and 6-5 Saturday at home against Albany.

The Bears (7-4-3-2) sit in third place in the East Division and return to the ice Wednesday night at Giant Center against the Providence Bruins (8-10-1-1).

Down a level, the ECHL's South Carolina Stingrays completed a three-game weekend series against the Gwinnett Gladiators with a 6-1 win Sunday.

Goaltending prospect Phillipp Grubauer turned aside 35 of 36 shots as he improved to 8-1-0-1 on the year. Grubauer, who turns 20 Friday, leads the ECHL with a 1.59 goals-against-average and a .945 save percentage.

With the win, the Stingrays (10-6-0-1) sit atop the Eastern Conference.

AVS WATCH 2012:

The Colorado Avalanche fell at home Sunday, 4-1 to the San Jose Sharks. Colorado has lost four of its last five games and eight of ten overall as the Avs drop to 9-11-1 on the year.

The Capitals received Colorado's first round pick in next June's NHL Entry Draft as part of the deal that sent goalie Semyon Varlamov to Denver last summer.

Varlamov played the role of backup Sunday night as J.S. Giguere started his third straight game. Varlamov is on a personal six-game losing streak (0-5-1), having allowed 25 goals in the six games.

The Avs continue their eight-game home stand against the Vancouver Canucks (10-9-1) Wednesday. Colorado begins the week 25th overall in the NHL standings.

Catch the Capitals and Coyotes Monday at 7:05 p.m. on Federal News Radio 1500AM and online at .

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Fehr still overcoming injuries with new squad

Posted on: Friday 11/18/2011 11:35am

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Although the Caps lost to the Winnipeg Jets 4-1Thursday, there were in the company of a familiar face.

Former Caps forward Eric Fehr- traded to Winnipeg in July - is back in his home province and hosted a few of his former teammates to dinner Wednesday night.

Fehr told the Capitals Radio Network Thursday afternoon that he's kept an eye on his former teammates this season and that he's even caught a few Caps games on television. Fehr has caught quite a few games on the television, as he remains sidelined after offseason shoulder surgery.

"I'm feeling pretty good," says Fehr, who has now undergone three shoulder operations in his NHL career. "Over the last couple of weeks, I think I've taken steps in the right direction and I hope to be playing in the next week or two."

Fehr was the Capitals first round pick (18th overall) in the 2003 entry draft, and played 230 games with Washington, collecting 46 goals and 93 points.

With one year and $2.2 million remaining on his contract in the off-season, Fehr may have fallen victim to the salary cap as Capitals general manager George McPhee sent him to the Jets for a 2012 fourth round draft pick and minor leaguer Danick Paquette.

"I was in my hometown in Winkler, [Manitoba], hanging out with my brother on the golf course," Fehr said of the day he was traded.

"I got the call and I was definitely shocked. It wasn't something I was expecting and it's really tough the first time you get traded. It's a tough feeling to have. It made it a little bit easier knowing that I was going to be in Winnipeg- close to my friends and family- but it still leaves a bit of hole in your stomach after you get traded."

The Capitals are the only professional organization Fehr had ever known, as he came up through the Caps minor league system, winning an AHL Calder Cup with the Hershey Bears in 2006.

"We've had a lot of good teams in the past," Fehr says.

"I think the Capitals are really close to having a successful team and obviously I wanted to be a part of it. But now that I've moved on to Winnipeg I have the same dreams for this team. I think we have a good young core and players that want to win and I'm excited to have that challenge here in Winnipeg."

While the disappointment of being traded from Washington still lingers, Fehr is also embracing this special season in Winnipeg, where the NHL has returned for the first time since 1996.

"They've been super excited," Fehr said of the fans in Winnipeg. "They've obviously sold out the rink every game… I think over the past couple of weeks especially, the fans have gone from real excited to having a team to now really wanting wins."

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All rights reserved.)

Voukoun makes Nashville return Tues.

Posted on: Tuesday 11/15/2011 6:25pm

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - It had been five years since Capitals goalie Tomas Vokoun last played for the Nashville Predators but the Czech Republic native still has fond memories of his time in Music City.

"I was just really happy they gave me the chance to be a starting [goalie] in the NHL," says Vokoun, who was selected by the Predators in the 1998 NHL expansion draft, despite one game of NHL experience under his belt.

Tuesday, Vokoun is expected to make his 644th career start as the Capitals begin a three-game road trip at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena (Caps pre-game at 7:30 p.m. on WFED 1500AM).

"I'd say that 90 percent of the people who were there the first day are still there - not so much from a player standpoint, but from an organizational standpoint."

The Predators celebrated their 1000th game in franchise history over the weekend and among those who have remained in Tennessee since day one are Predators general manager David Poile and head coach Barry Trotz.

"I think that [consistency] is one of the reasons that, for a small-market team that is challenged money-wise, they have been able to stay competitive and somewhat successful over the years. They do a great with the resources they have- they've been able to draft well and develop players."

Vokoun remains Nashville's franchise leader among goalies for games played (383), wins (161) and shutouts (21). Although it's only a matter of time before those records are broken by Nashville's current goalie Pekka Rinne, who signed a seven-year extension last week, Vokoun will always have a place in Predators' history.

"I'm never going to forget the first shutout in team history which he registered [Jan. 15, 1999 vs. Phoenix]," Predators play-by-play voice Pete Weber told the Capitals Radio Network. "He began that season third on the depth chart behind Mike Dunham and Eric Fichaud."

Voukoun calls that season a learning experience.

"It was hard for a goalie," he says. "We weren't a very good team, but in a sense, it was good for me. I faced a lot of shots and we had a lot to deal with [as a team in its first year], so it made me a better player. It wasn't an easy year, but at that point in my career, I didn't care. I was just happy being in the NHL."

Catch the Capitals and Predators tonight at 8:05 p.m. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 7:30 p.m. on Federal News Radio 1500AM and online at www.wfed.com.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All rights reserved.)

Special reunion awaits Caps' Ward in Nashville

Posted on: Tuesday 11/15/2011 5:31am

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - There are only so many things a visiting hockey player can do on a given road trip. Much of these trips are spent in arenas and hotels with the possibility of some shopping or dining out if time permits.

But with the Capitals in Nashville for Tuesday night's game against the Predators (7:30 p.m. Pregame on WFED 1500 AM), Caps forward and former Predator Joel Ward will make the most of his limited down time.

Following the Capitals morning skate at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena, Ward will cab 2.6 miles to LEAD Academy, a public charter school that serves 5th-to 9th graders.

Among the students at LEAD Academy is ninth grader Malik Johnson. Ward first met Johnson two years ago while volunteering with the Big Brothers & Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee.

"It was something I wanted to do to give back to Nashville," Ward said of becoming a Big Brother. "They were very supportive of me and I thought maybe it was a way I could help an individual a little bit."

Ward was immediately matched with Johnson and the two have remained in touch ever since. With the Caps making only one regular-season visit to Nashville this year,

Ward is making it a point to see his little brother even if that means tracking him down in school.

"It's going to be good for myself to get a chance to see him and take a look at his school and try to catch up with him and see how he's making out.

"We try to speak as often as we can. It's obviously a little different now with our schedules but we try to catch up a couple of times a week. When I was there we hung out a couple of days a week whether it was going to the ‘Y' or shooting some hoops, but we still connect on the phone and he's got email now, too."

Ward can sense some mutual excitement as both big and little brother look forward to their reunion. The frequent afternoons together had to end when Ward left Nashville over the summer after signing a four-year free agent deal with Washington.

"Yeah he called me," Ward said of the day he signed with the Capitals. "He realized leading up to it what was going on and what the outcome could be so I think he understood it but was still a little disappointed obviously. I had a really good connection with him and his family."

In addition to their playing sports together, Ward says he also brought Johnson to a number of Predators homes games and practices. Converting the teenager into a Capitals fan though hasn't been easy.

"I think he's still leaning toward being a Preds fan but I'm trying to move him to the Caps. But he's got a lot of guys on that team that he connected well with [during locker room visits] like [Shea] Weber, Colin Wilson and Nick Spaling."

The challenge of finding his little brother a last-minute ride to Tuesday night's game means that Johnson will likely be watching from home. But seeing Ward and the Capitals play in-person this year isn't out of the question.

"With [Alex] Ovechkin here, he could get to see some high-profile guys," Ward said. "So he's excited now and he just keeps itching to get a trip up here to Washington so I told him we'll just have to see how the grades are going and how school is going and we'll try to get him connected up here later this season."

Catch the Capitals and Predators tonight at 8:05 p.m. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 7:30 p.m. on Federal News Radio 1500AM and online at .

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Caps prepared for test vs. Brodeur

Posted on: Friday 11/11/2011 3:43pm By benraby

AP: 78942e82-dee5-4ca3-bce8-a6daa30f5f8d
New Jersey Devils' Martin Brodeur blocks a shot against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period of an NHL hockey game on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - New Jersey Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello has never been one to shy away from shaking up his team. Consider the 11 different coaching changes he’s made- including twice naming himself interim head coach- since 2002.  

But the one name that remains synonymous with the Devils’ on-ice success of the past 18 years and the one player that Lamoriello may never ship out of town is goaltender Martin Brodeur.

The 39-year-old future Hall of Famer is expected to start tonight when the Capitals visit New Jersey and while Brodeur’s best days are behind him (he finished below .500 for the time in his career last year at 23-26-3) his body of work cannot be ignored.

Brodeur holds NHL records for most career games played by a goalie (1137), most wins (627) and most shutouts (116). He is widely considered among the best goalies of all-time despite the inevitable drop in production the last few seasons.

 “It’s not an easy task to play this long,” said Capitals goalie Tomas Vokoun. “I’ve played a lot of games, but he’s played twice as [many]. For a goalie to play over 1,000 games is unbelievable. It says a lot about his durability and his skill. What a career.

Brodeur played in at least 70 games for 12-straight seasons, and led all NHL goalies in games played on six different occasions.

Finally during the 2008-09 season, Brodeur suffered his first major injury when a torn biceps tendon sidelined him for all but 31 games. Last year a combination of injuries limited Brodeur to just 56 games.

“He’s got a lot of mileage,” said Capitals forward Mike Knuble. “He’s been playing the game at such a high level for such a long time. The human body, especially at the goaltending position, can only take so much.”

Brodeur is 36-16-4 lifetime against the Capitals with a 2.28 goals-against-average, .908 save percentage and six shutouts. He’s a three-time Stanley Cup champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist.

 “I remember playing for coaches that just were so psyched out by him,” Knuble said. “They’d structure a whole game plan around keeping the puck away from him and this and that and [saying] ‘don’t get psyched out by Brodeur’, when [the coaches] are psyching their whole team out talking about Brodeur.”

Knuble could not remember at the top of his head how many of his 270 career goals have come against Brodeur but joked that whatever the total, it’s “not enough.”

Knuble, and every other NHL player for that matter, could be running out of chances to beat the NHL’s all-time wins leader. Brodeur is in the final season of a six-year $31.2 million deal he negotiated himself.

“I don’t care who you are, probably as a forward you get a little bit of a kick or a sparkle in your eye if you’re lucky enough to get a goal on him because he’s got that reputation… He’s a hall of famer.”


Catch the Capitals and Devils tonight at 7:05. Coverage begins at 6:45 with Caps Pregame on Federal News Radio, 1500AM and online at www.wfed.com.






Knuble struggles with new Caps role

Posted on: Friday 11/11/2011 9:26am

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - For the better part of Mike Knuble's first two years in Washington, the power forward was in the enviable right wing position on the Capitals' No. 1 line alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

But after signing a one year extension with the Caps last April, the 39-year-old has found himself in a much different role so far this season.

When the Capitals visit the Devils Friday, Knuble is likely to play on a line with grinders Jeff Halpern, 35, and Matt Hendricks, 30, for the third time in four games.

"I think they both take a lot of pride in their end zone play and they try to be good defensive players," Knuble said Thursday before the Caps took off for Newark, N.J.

Knuble explained that if "Backstrom's line is going to score and Marcus [Johansson's] line is going to score, you have to realize that and try to get your victories in other ways -- finish your checks and just be a hard working line."

The 6-foot-3, 229-pound Knuble -- with a knack for the net and eight straight 20 goal seasons -- understands that he needs to play to his linemates' strengths, and finding the back of the net is not necessarily among them.

"You've got to have almost a different priority coming into the game," Knuble said. "I think the three of us can keep it simple and at times our job is to go out there and try and tilt the ice in a certain direction and play in their end. It might not always be about getting a goal or something like that as much it is swinging momentum and trying to get them to play in their own end."

If it doesn't sound glamorous, well, that's because it's not. Players like Hendricks and Halpern are valuable to the Caps for things that may go unnoticed by the casual fan -- little things like cycling the puck and winning battles in the corners. It's a blue collar mentality that Knuble is ready to adopt himself.

"For us, our success is logging time in the offensive zone," Knuble said. "If we could chip in [a goal], we'll chip in, but you have to face reality of who you are and what your priorities are."

In most NHL circles, the Hendricks-Halpern-Knuble trio would be referred to as Washington's fourth line. Head coach Bruce Boudreau prefers to call them his "energy line" or "secondary checking" line.

Either way, one thing the trio won't be called any time soon is Washington's most offensively prolific line and that could take some getting used to for Knuble after skating with the Caps' two leading scorers in each of the past two seasons.

Between them, Knuble, Hendricks and Halpern have a combined three goals this season.

"It is an adjustment and that's the way it's looking like it's going to be," Knuble said, sounding like a man who has accepted his fate. "I'm not naïve to the fact that it's a young guys' game. I'm thrilled just to have a chance to contribute and still be on a solid team -- a great team with the potential to do a lot of great things -- and if that's going to be my role and if that's where I have to be, then I have no problem doing it."

Catch the Capitals and Devils Friday at 7:05. Coverage begins at 6:45 p.m. with Caps Pregame on Federal News Radio, 1500AM and online.

Follow WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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