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Flyers Missing Some D-Men in DC, Knuble Returns for Caps

Mar 4, 2012, 6:03 PM EDT

After scratching him in seven of the previous 11 games, Washington Capitals head coach Dale Hunter will skate Mike Knuble tonight against his former Flyers club, which appears to be without two of its top defensemen.

It was hard to see Mike Knuble leave Philly as a free agent after the 2008-2009 season. He was a popular player and consistent scorer, a veteran presence that is coveted and often hard to replace. In four seasons with the Flyers, he scored 34, 24, 29, and 27 goals, with his lowest total coming in his only injury-shortened season. So, it was no surprise when Knuble continued that success in DC, scoring 29 goals in 69 games, nor when he scored 24 goals in his 14th NHL season.

But things have soured for Knuble and the Capitals, whose two head coaches have both used the big forward in checking roles with diminished minutes, and he’s lately even been a healthy scratch. The veteran has been in vocal opposition to the benching, and along with fellow disgruntled old-head Roman Hamrlik, was the subject of some trade deadline fodder.

After scratching him in seven of the previous 11 games, Caps head coach Dale Hunter will dress Knuble tonight against his former Flyers club, which appears to be without two of its top defensemen…

Sadly, we can’t root for Knuble to stick it to that horse’s ass by netting a hattie, all from within 10 feet of the net. The told-ya-so smirk as he skated back to the bench would be enjoyable, but there’s too much at stake for both clubs to hope anything goes right for Washington.

As we pointed out in our earlier post, the Caps are scraping their way through a disappointing season, temporarily outside the playoff bubble as the third place team in a division that does not have a club above .500. Hunter took over the team in late November after it had struggled to a 12-9-1 mark under Bruce Boudreau. They’ve gone just 20-18-4 with Hunter at the helm.

We don’t begrudge a head coach the difficult decision of having to bench a respected player who is past his best years, nor asking players to live up to a better standard than the one he himself set. But his stated reasons were laughable… In Knuble’s case, Hunter actually brought up a bad plus-minus rating when he informed the forward he’d be sitting. With Hamrlik, he pointed to bad penalties. Dale Hunter. Pointed to someone’s bad penalties.

If you hate the Caps, you’ve enjoyed every minute of this, save for its inclusion of Knuble.

More recently, Washington’s woes have involved poor play on special teams and problems with turnovers. In their previous game, the Devils slaughtered them, 5-0, on Friday night. Michal Neuvirth was in net that night, and gets his fifth straight start tonight as well, per Katie Carrera of the Washington Post.

Woes of Our Own
At the other end of the ice, Ilya Bryzgalov goes again for the Flyers, who hope to win consecutive games for the first time since mid-January. Bryz will likely have his work cut out for him though. After Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, and Andrej Meszaros all missed yesterday’s practice with what Homer called a maintenance day, Erik Gustaffson was recalled. Frank Seravalli believes Timonen and Meszaros will miss the game, with Gus and Andreas Lilja skating in their places.

No confirmation as to who will sit—or why—as of the initial posting, but Sarah Baicker says that if it’s Kimmo, his ironman streak ends at 248 games. [Update: Frank was right. Homer says Kimmo and Mesz are out indefinitely with LBI's.]

Does the prospect of a Kimmo/Mesz-less defense scare you? It should… The Flyers’ D has been on its heels too often even when fully intact (uh, minus Chris Pronger, that is). Good thing Homer added depth before the deadline, and Nick Grossman should have some motivation to erase a few poor plays recently.

The action starts at 7PM, on NBC Sports Network. HEAR THAT FLYERS? SEVEN PM.