-- A broken jaw is not an uncommon injury for hockey players but, as Mike Knuble
found out, having it happen in the days leading up to Thanksgiving is about the worst possible time.
Knuble took a puck to the face Nov. 19 against Atlanta and ended up with a broken jaw, but he was back in the lineup for the Washington Capitals
seven days later. In between was Thanksgiving dinner at the Knuble household, and it won't be remembered as one of his favorites.
"Eating was hard work. You were eating just to fill your stomach. When was the last time I had just one plate of food at Thanksgiving?" Knuble said. "Never -- I mean, I couldn't even eat the appetizers. That's just not the way to go through Thanksgiving. It was just not as fulfilling to eat. It was work, so you are kind of like, ‘meh.'
"Now I am pretty much back. The only thing I can't eat like normal is steak. I just have to eat it slower and mash it up a little."
The veteran power forward lost "five or six" pounds because of the injury, but has gained the weight back. Knuble has also scored a goal in two of the past three games for Washington, which means he is one shy of a milestone.
His next goal will be No. 250, a worthy accomplishment for any player, but especially for Knuble, who will have scored 200 of them after his 30th birthday. His first shot at it will be Thursday night when the Capitals play host to the Florida Panthers
at Verizon Center.
"I knew it was creeping up," Knuble said. "I know I'm closing in on 250 [goals] and 250 [assists]. That, 500 points and 1,000 games played would probably be my big milestones that I can reach. I think that is way more than I would accomplish in those categories. I'll have to remember that and get the puck."
Knuble was a depth player and bottom-six forward for the first five-plus seasons of his career after a successful NCAA tenure at Michigan. He scored 15 goals in 1998-99 for the New York Rangers
, but had only 15 in his first two full seasons with the Boston Bruins
He had the chance to play on a line with Joe Thornton
for the Bruins in 2002-03. Knuble's goal-scoring touch spiked and hasn't relented since. He has seven straight 20-goal seasons and two years of 30-plus. He has been a force in front of the net for Philadelphia and now Washington since the start of the 2005-06 season, averaging nearly 29 goals per campaign.
"Being a power forward is a tough position, especially to get a lot of goals in a season," teammate Eric Fehr
said. "It is impressive how he has done it. Hopefully I can follow in his footsteps and someday get to 250."
This season has been a slow start for Knuble, but that is nothing new to him. Last season he had 5 goals in his first 27 games after signing a two-year contract with Washington in the offseason. He also missed a month with a broken finger.
Knuble still finished with 29 goals. This year he has 5 goals in his first 26 games, but missed only three with the broken jaw.
The biggest outlier in Knuble's stat line is his shooting percentage. He is connecting on only 7.7 percent of his shots this season, while his career rate sits at 14.3 percent even with this year's total factored in. His 2.5 shots per game are fourth on the team.
"It is very similar to last year," Knuble said. "It was a slow start, but I look at my attempts on goal and shots on goal. They are up there. It is just the shooting percentage that is down. You don't lose confidence -- it is a long year and you just have to keep going. You have to believe those averages will come out true. I'm a 14- or 15-percent shooter in my career just because of where I get my shots from around the net."