NEW YORK | Mike Green had no doubt about returning to the Washington Capitals’ lineup Thursday night at the Winnipeg Jets. After missing 93 of the past 195 regular-season games with one injury or another, the defenseman was eager to get his “mojo” back.
That might take some time, but for now he’ll accept playing without pain.
“Obviously back to 100 percent, so it makes it easier to play,” Green said Sunday at Madison Square Garden. “I felt really good. It’s kind of a relief to be back out there with the team playing well and whatnot.”
Green played 22:44 in his return after missing 10 straight games and 13 of 15 with a lingering groin injury. Friday night in the second half of the back-to-back, he played 19:48 and scored his first goal since Feb. 3.
“He gave us the green light and we all talked and he came out and he played good, he took some contact and got a big goal for us,” coach Adam Oates said. “Big goal for him. It was great.”
Even better for the 27-year-old and the Caps, he came out of it without suffering a setback.
“It’s a good feeling, but I’m used to it. I’m used to that sort of play against myself; there was no inkling of any sort of pain or anything,” Green said. “My whole goal when I was coming back was that I had to be 100 percent. …
“You can only ever play the game efficient when you feel good. You eliminate a lot of little bumps and bruises along the way because you’re able to move and get out of the way so I was fine.”
Green might not have been fully healthy when he came back to play games Feb. 26 and 27. Taking hits at the Philadelphia Flyers knocked him out of the lineup again.
Jets players knocked him around a little bit, too, most notably Evander Kane’s cross-check late in the Caps’ victory Thursday that drew a 10-minute misconduct.
Oates was relieved that Green did not have any ill-effects from that contact. One of the pillars of Oates’ system involves keeping his defensemen from absorbing too many hits, and that’s important for Green, who has missed time in the past two-plus season with a variety of injuries.
“It’s a part of the game; obviously it’s a physical game, but every little opportunity we have to minimize it,” Oates said. “And he’s a targeted man. He’s got to come to grips with that that they’re after him. They’re talking about Mike Green tonight. It will sure help him the more he understands that.”
The New York Rangers have gone out of their way to finish checks against Green just about every time they see him, so Sunday night could serve as another test.
But Green isn’t yet back to top form where he can play 27-plus minutes and be leaned on as the No. 1 defenseman. He won’t rush back into that.
“It takes time when you’re out for three weeks and honestly hadn’t even skated until three or four days before,” Green said. “I think the process now is to ease back into it rather than full throttle. That’s the healthy way to do it, and that’s what we’ll do.”
It’s tough for Oates, he acknowledged, to have injured players like Green and Brooks Laich who want to play. The Caps’ coach said there’s a need to think “big picture” when guys are coming back, and that counts now for Green getting ramped back up.
“Hopefully [it won’t take] too much longer,” Oates said. “The big thing was we talked to him in Winnipeg about you can’t play unless you’re healthy.”
Green calls himself 100 percent and doesn’t consider conditioning an impediment to resuming a heavy workload.
“I feel good,” he said. “Honestly I feel like I could play the 30 whatnot already. [Waiting is] just the smart thing to do.”