A man’s face is his autobiography. Judging by Mike Knuble’s face throughout the regular season, his was not pleasurable to write.
There were noticeable bags under Knuble’s eyes and the gray strands in his beard seemed to multiply by the day. And for good reason. Never had a man lost so much in so little time. Gone was his almost decade-long streak of at least 20 goals, his regular spot on the first line and his ability to contribute – let alone play – regularly. His six goals were the fewest of his career when considering full seasons and his time on ice average plummeted by just under four minutes. For the first time in Knuble’s 15-year career, he actually felt his age.
Knuble, however, had a career resurgence in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After resuming his now-normal position as a healthy scratch, Knuble finally earned an opportunity to play in the postseason, though he backed into it; head coach Dale Hunter inserted Knuble into the lineup in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Boston Bruins to replace Nicklas Backstrom, who was suspended for a match penalty in the waning moments of Game 3.
Yet, once Knuble was in, he made enough of an impact to stay in. Washington’s fourth line of Knuble, Keith Aucoin and Joel Ward was arguably the most consistent throughout the postseason. Knuble scored twice, but it was his assist on Ward’s series-clinching goal in Game 7 against the Bruins April 25 that provided the perfect flashback. There was Knuble, crashing the net and wreaking havoc in the crease, making it almost impossible for Tim Thomas to recover before Ward slipped the puck past him. Doing the dirty work had rejuvenated him.
“I feel good,” the 39-year-old Knuble said Monday. “My body feels good and I’ve got nothing nagging me, no nagging injuries or anything like that and that can be the case when you get into your upper 30s that you’ve got some chronic things going on.”
As Knuble, an unrestricted free agent, addressed the media for the final time Monday, he stepped to the podium clean-shaven and fresh-faced as if he had taken a shower in the Fountain of Youth. If a man’s face is an autobiography, then Knuble’s is not finished yet.
“I still enjoy playing the game and I still enjoy coming out to the rink every day and I enjoy being around the other players,” Knuble said, adding that he wants to continue playing, though a return to Washington is uncertain. “I think that that’s half the battle- wanting to be there- as you get older.”