Theme: “Courageous, untroubled, mocking and violent-that is what Wisdom wants us to be. Wisdom is a woman, and loves only a warrior.”
-- Friedrich Nietzsche
Mike Knuble works in a violent world. That semi-circle with a radius of a dozen feet from the center of the goal line are the equivalent of a Class IV or V rapids on a river – difficult to negotiate, heavily obstructed, dangerous, requiring the best effort and greatest knowledge. Working in that world over the past 13 seasons has imparted upon Knuble a certain wisdom on how to survive (he has played in fewer than 64 games in a season only once in the last 11 seasons) and how to flourish (he has averaged 28 goals a season over the past seven years). And through it all, to watch him in interviews he seems the most unflappable sort, nothing in his demeanor betraying the fact that he has to be violent to an extent, not to mention courageous, to work in that difficult world around an opponent’s net.
Last season – his first with Washington – Knuble was exactly as advertised. A sturdy presence around the opponent’s net, his scoring would come from a dozen feet and in. Sure enough, 29 goals (six on the power play) were the result, just about exactly where one might have predicted he would finish.
But in addition to finishing fourth in goals and fifth in points among Caps forwards last season, he took the odd penalty killing shift (0:36 in shorthanded ice time per game), was fourth among forwards in blocked shots, and even chipped in his first shootout goal in the NHL (against the best of opponents):
If not for a broken finger that sidelined him for a dozen games early in the season, he very well might have challenged his career highs in goals (he finished five short), points (12 short), and game-winning goals (one short).
Against Eastern Conference teams that made the playoffs last year, Knuble finished 10-6-16, plus-17 (that’s not a typo) in 21 games. He was 4-2-6, plus-6 against Pittsburgh alone in four games. And that brings us to an important point about Knuble’s production. Plainly put, he’s been a Penguin killer. In 57 career games against Pittsburgh, he is 27-14-41. The 27 goals are almost ten more than he has against any other opponent (18 against Buffalo). He has also shown his ornery side to the Penguins, earning more than ten percent of his career penalty minutes against them (including 19 of his 59 PIMS last season, 17 of which came in the February 7th contest in which he had an instigator, a fighting, and a misconduct penalty…oh, and the game-winning goal in overtime).
Knuble also had a finishing kick, something one might not have expected from a player who was about to turn 38 last July 4th. From January 1st on, Knuble was 22-12-34, plus-18, in 41 games. In the 14-game winning streak the Caps had from January 13th through February 7th, he was 11-6-17, plus-14, in dressing for all 14 games.
Fearless: Last year, there were 22 players in the NHL who dressed for at least one game that were older than Mike Knuble. None had more goals. Only one (Ray Whitney) had more points. In fact the next oldest player who matched Knuble’s 29 goals just turned 35 this past June (Martin St. Louis). The next oldest player who surpassed Knuble’s 29-goal total turned only 33 last December (Mikael Samuelsson, who had 30). Find out what kind of water this guy is drinking.
Cheerless: There were only 15 forwards older than Knuble who dressed last year. And that group included guys like Rod Brind’Amour, Bill Guerin, Robert Lang, Donald Brashear, Owen Nolan, Keith Tkachuk, and Slava Kozlov. What do these guys have in common?
In the end…
If, like the rest of the club, it all comes down to playoff performance, Knuble did not have a bad playoff against the Canadiens last spring. In fact, it might have been his personal best in eight playoff appearances, but for one or two things. He finished with his second highest point total (six in seven games, compared to seven in 12 games in 2008). He recorded the only shorthanded goal of his playoff career. What he suffered from was what a lot of his teammates suffered. Following what was his most efficient shooting performance of his career in the regular season (19.5 percent of his shots on goal found the back of the net) he had only two goals on 23 shots in the Montreal series. And of course, there was this…
But that is what Knuble does night in and night out (look at how close last year’s numbers were to his career per-82 game averages). He sees a teammate in a position to get a puck on net, and he heads there, as surely as the Sun rises in the east. It is the wisdom born out of doing it dozens of times in dozens of games over the years. It is having learned how to negotiate that violent world in front of a goaltender, even when the referees get it wrong (or at least make a call that hasn’t been called in that manner consistently). You can probably count on him doing it again and again for 75 or more games, pushing on the edge of 30 goals, just as he seems to do every year. Knuble is that Capital who is the warrior loved by wisdom.
75 games, 27-25-52, +20