- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2006

Since the second period of a Jan. 16 game in Phoenix, the Washington Capitals were forced to play without two of their top four defensemen. For a team that is wafer thin on experienced personnel, that was a huge loss.

Things started to even out Sunday when Jamie Heward returned from a groin injury and helped the team kill all seven Tampa Bay power plays in a 2-1 victory. Things got even better along the blue line yesterday when the Caps called up rookie Mike Green from Hershey of the American Hockey League.

Some players who usually log 10 to 12 minutes a game were suddenly being asked to play 20 to 25 and do the same jobs performed by Heward and Steve Eminger, out since Jan. 13 with an ankle injury. There is a reason minutes are doled out the way they are, and when there is a sudden reversal, bad things often happen.

Caps coach Glen Hanlon would not criticize any of his defensemen; his style is to heap praise on an individual or say nothing on the subject. But the past two weeks have been harrowing to say the least, especially when it came to killing penalties.

Yesterday, however, Hanlon had to acknowledge that perhaps the defense was “overextended” with the two regulars out (and there is no guess on when Eminger will return).

“Everybody has a threshold, and once they get over it, bad things normally start to happen,” Hanlon said. “You can dodge a bullet for a game or two, but eventually the odds are something [bad] will happen. Some people were overextended, so it’s good to get Heward back in there.”

There is no plan etched in stone on how long Green will stay. Hanlon said a lot of that depends on how well he plays in the next few games. Green has the reputation of a quick-thinking defender who can make an excellent first pass out of the defensive zone, something that has been lacking lately for Washington and has resulted in more than a few opposition goals.

Green played 11 games with the Caps at the start of the season after having an excellent training camp, but it became clear he needed seasoning. The learning process isn’t complete, but Hershey is on the AHL’s all-star break and he was recalled. He has five goals and 25 points in 38 games and is plus-4 defensively.

“He was playing well enough to get called up last week but we want him to play his American Hockey League games,” Hanlon said. Under general manager George McPhee, the team’s policy is to leave rookies in the AHL for at least a full campaign for seasoning unless their name is Alex Ovechkin.

Meanwhile, left wing Ovechkin missed practice yesterday, as did his center, Dainius Zubrus. Hanlon said both had nagging injuries but refused to come close to isolating an area on either body that required medical attention. Zubrus, a veteran, knows better than to say where he was hurting, and Ovechkin has quickly learned to follow suit.

All indications were that the two would be available for tonight’s road game against the New York Islanders.

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