Capitals need goal injection

Capitals need goal injection
December 2, 2011, 8:41 pm
Share This Post

Its no secret the Capitals offense has been on vacation since the arrival of new head coach Dale Hunter.

In his first two games since replacing Bruce Boudreau, Hunter has seen his team outshot 65-36 and outscored 4-2.

But the Capitals scoring woes date back much farther than this week. In their past 10 games the Caps have been held to two goals or fewer seven times and have lost every time.

And while Alex Ovechkin (eight goals) has shouldered much of the blame, his supporting cast has been struggling as well. Through 23 games this season wingers Troy Brouwer and Alex Semin each have five goals, Joel Ward and Brooks Laich are stuck on four, and Mike Knuble has just two.

Of those scoring slumps, Knubles might be the most noticeable. Last season Knuble scored 24 goals with an 11.8 shooting percentage and a plus-10 rating while averaging just under 18 minutes a game.

This season hes scoring on just 5 percent of his shots and is a minus-7 while averaging just over 15 minutes a game. Knuble said his dramatic dip in production is easy to explain.

I know through the course of my career how Ive been successful, Knuble said. Would I call myself a goal scorer? No. But Ive been able to play with good players and complement them. I think thats evident in my career numbers.

Knuble became a 30-goal scorer in 2002-03 in when he played on the Boston Bruins top line with Joe Thornton and Glen Murray. He stayed in that range in Philadelphia, where he played on a top line with Peter Forsberg and Simon Gagne and kept a slightly lower pace in his first two seasons in Washington while playing alongside Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

I try to be around the net and when you play with good players you get rebounds, Knuble said. I am what I am. I play well with good players.

Midway through Thursday nights 2-1 loss to the Penguins, Hunter moved Knuble onto a line with Ovechkin and Backstrom and the three generated three scoring chances in their first two shifts.

Hunter said he was simply giving Troy Brouwer a breather after the right wing killed off back-to-back penalties. After those few shifts Knuble returned to a fourth line with Jeff Halpern and Matt Hendricks.

At Fridays practice, Knuble found himself on a second line with Marcus Johansson and alternating left wings Semin and Cody Eakin.

If you want me to check I feel I can check, Knuble said. I can play a two-way game. For whatever reason I havent settled in on a spot.

Hunter said Knuble can use his size to create chances for skill players like Semin, who saw just 12:45 of ice time on Thursday and has just three shots in his last two games.

Hes a skill guy we need goals from and still play good defensive hockey, Hunter said of Semin. He had some scoring chances and made some good defensive plays.

Knuble said he believes the Capitals have the personnel to score goals and has seen improvement in the teams first two games under Hunter. But with this may being his final season in the NHL, the 39-year-old winger is starting to feel the urgency to turn things around quickly.

You think about it every day, he said. Its easy to think its just going to happen. It is December now and were starting to get to that point last year where we had a real turning point and played well.

I think we can do it here. I think on paper we have better personnel. Weve had a lot going on here but as a group we have to figure out how to win a game.