TAMPA, Fla. | Mike Green lay prone on the ice for a couple of tense moments Monday night after taking a shoulder to the cheek from Tampa Bay’s David Hale.
The Washington Capitals standout wobbled a bit on his way to the bench, but hockey’s most dynamic offensive defenseman still managed to prove he has fortitude to go with his majestic skills.
Not only did he not miss a shift, Green weaved his way around two foes with the puck on his stick and drew a tripping penalty for his efforts.
“Mike’s tough. Unless he’s legitimately hurt, he wants to play 30 minutes a night,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Sometimes we have to corral him to curtail his ice time.”
Added center Brooks Laich: “He plays a lot of minutes every night, and he is targeted. He takes a lot of hits by going back in our zone and getting the puck and moving it up. … I thought it was a bit of a high hit last night, and it slowed him down for a minute, but I don’t think you’re going to stop him.”
The 24-year-old from Calgary has been on a roll of late and is making a final push for inclusion on the Canadian team for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Green leads all NHL defensemen in scoring with 30 points - just as he did a season ago with 73 despite missing 14 games because of a shoulder injury. Since missing a game in early November, Green has 17 points in 13 games - including a two-goal, four-point clinic Saturday night in Philadelphia.
On hand in the press box that night were a few interested spectators by the names of Steve Yzerman, Kevin Lowe and Doug Armstrong - the guys who happen to be in charge of picking Team Canada. The roster will be announced Dec. 30.
“I have no idea,” Green said when asked about his chances of making the team. “I’m doing what is asked of me as far with the Capitals, and hopefully it is enough for them [at Hockey Canada].”
Green is on pace for 82 points, something no defenseman has accomplished since the 1995-96 season. But Green, who led the league in goals by a defenseman each of the past two seasons, has seen his goal-scoring decline this season. He has made up for that with an upgrade in assists, and his value for the league’s highest-scoring offense cannot be understated.
“Mike set the bar so high last year with the season he had and scoring 31 goals,” Laich said. “When you do that, everyone talks about your goal-scoring, but there are so many other things that Mike does. It is his transition game - the way he can go from defense to offense, and the way he can move the puck. He really changes our team from the back end.”
Green has been a constant for the Caps as quarterback of the power play, which is tops in the NHL at 24.4 percent. His defensive performance was criticized after last year’s postseason, but he has improved his all-around play, and his plus-11 rating ranks third among Canadian defensemen behind only Calgary’s Jay Bouwmeester and Caps teammate Jeff Schultz.
His prowess on offense - and on the power play in particular - could be a big positive for his chances to make the team. Canada struggled to generate offense at the Turin Olympics in 2006, scoring only 15 goals in six games (including three shutout losses) en route to a national panic-inducing seventh-place finish.
The biggest question about Green seems to center on trust. Can Team Canada, with gold-or-bust expectations, trust Green not to have a defensive lapse or a turnover at a critical point in what could be the most pressure-packed tournament in the history of the sport?
“Yeah, but maybe he’s going to score that one power-play goal to win you a 2-1 game, too,” Laich said. “I think in a tournament like that he would be great as a game-changer and game-breaker.”
Added Green: “If I get picked, I am sure I will think about it every day, but until then I will just play. I can’t worry about what is going on with that. I’m just trying to do my part here, and that’s all I can do.”