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 na