The Washington Times - December 19, 2011, 09:07PM

Perhaps no one on the Washington Capitals knows better about Mike Knuble’s late-blooming career than Joel Ward, who similarly emerged as a full-time NHL player with a scoring touch after years of uncertainty.

So Ward can definitely appreciate Knuble hitting the 1,000-game mark Tuesday night.

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“I never thought i’d get 1,000 matches in. That’s a lot of pregame skates, a lot of practices,” Ward said. “Hats off to him. He’s a great guy.”

Of course Ward is far from the only one in the Caps’ locker room to praise Knuble and this accomplishment. Roman Hamrlik, a veteran of 1,338 NHL games himself, called the 39-year-old right wing hard to play against.

“He always gives 100 percent and that’s why he’s still playing,” Hamrlik said. “He always battled hard. It’s a nice number to have. For me it’s a pleasure to play with him – a guy like this and make such a number like that, that’s impressive. And hopefully he can have more games like that.”

Knuble talked last week like a guy who doesn’t want this season to be his last, so Hamrlik might get his wish. There won’t be a game No. 2,000, but this number is a big one.

“For a guy to show up every year like that, it’s pretty impressive. It just shows you what kind of guy he is – you definitely have to be in great physical shape,” Ward said. “I think it’s a tremendous accomplishment.”

It’s impossible to understate Knuble’s importance to Caps from a leadership standpoint, even though he’s currently in a reduced role on the fourth line.

When the Caps were getting crushed by the Florida Panthers on Dec. 5, it was Knuble who said something at intermission to spark what turned out to be a nice comeback but not a win.

“He was the guy to fire everybody up. He just knows the times to say it and times not to. Guys look to him on the ice; he works hard every night, he brings the same game every night,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “He’s not afraid to muck it up in front of the net. You need that guy. He’s been great for this team and great for us younger guys and good for Ovi and them, too, to really look up to somebody. You need a guy like that.”