- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2012

A couple of Washington Capitals players were taken by surprise when told the news that Mike Knuble would be a healthy scratch on Thursday night against the Winnipeg Jets. Knuble hasn’t scored a goal since Dec. 5 and has yo-yoed up and down the lineup since late October.

But the 39-year-old veteran is well-respected in the locker room as one of the key cogs of the Caps’ leadership group.

“You just be supportive. He’s a good player, and we want him in the lineup,” right wing Troy Brouwer said.” He’s a great leader. But the coaches are going to make their decisions. Mike’s a good team guy, and he’ll be around and making sure that he’s preparing us for the game.”

This is the first time during his three-year tenure in Washington that Knuble is a healthy scratch for performance reasons. Jay Beagle steps back into the lineup.

“It’s always hard to do. But you put Beagle in, more speed, and Mike hasn’t scored in a while, and we figured that we’d get him up top and watch the game,” coach Dale Hunter said. “I’ve been through it, and if you’ve played hockey, you’ve been through it. You don’t like it, and that’s the way you want the guy to react. You can’t say, ‘Oh, it’s fine.’ He doesn’t like it, but it’s part of hockey.”

Knuble did extra work following the morning skate with fellow healthy scratch John Erskine and goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who won’t start against the Jets despite shutting them out in December. Knuble, the alternate captain who’s usually willing to hold court with reporters for long periods of time after he steps off the ice, offered a polite “No thanks, guys,” when approached Thursday.

“It’s one of those things he’s been a real pro and he’s a leader,” Hunter said. “But that’s decisions that coaches have to make.”

Knuble’s last point was an assist Jan. 13 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He has three goals, eight assists and a minus-14 rating in 53 games this season.

There was some buzz after training camp that Knuble would be a healthy scratch, but that never came to fruition. Instead Marcus Johansson took a seat in the press box.

Now, Knuble will be there.

“I think Mike knows how to take it. He can deal with it,” Johansson said. “He’s our most experienced guy, or one of them. I think he, of anyone, knows how to take it.”

Stats tell one story, but Knuble is one of the most respected veterans the Caps have. Still, Hunter said he wasn’t worried about locker room dynamics being negatively affected by making Knuble a healthy scratch.

“We know he’s a team leader, and you see he worked out hard out here,” Hunter said. “That’s what leadership’s all about. But we’re just going to add more team speed, and he’s the odd man out.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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