Committee approach working as Capitals’ defense awaits Green’s return

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On and off the ice, putting varying degrees of pressure on his injured right ankle, Mike Green doesn’t look comfortable.

“It’s just one of those things with the ankles and your skate,” he said. “If I cant skate, I can’t play.”

Green’s level of skating hasn’t been consistent this week, and Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau ruled his All-Star defenseman out for Friday night’s game at the Carolina Hurricanes. It would seem to be a stretch to think he could play Saturday night at the New York Islanders, either.

Three games into life without Green, the Capitals hope they don’t have to continue like this for too long. But they also know it takes a team effort to make up for his absence.

Mike’s a fantastic player and we miss him, but the last couple years there’s been key guys that have been in and out of the lineup and we don’t change,” center Brooks Laich said. “It’s just more minutes for Dennis Wideman, who’s maybe playing the best hockey that I’ve ever seen him play. John Carlson gets more minutes. We get John Erskine back. You’re never going to replace Greenie, but by committee guys just step up.”

Washington is different without Green in the lineup, and you don’t have to look far to find areas where the Caps struggle.

In the past three games, the power play has gone 1-for-11 (9.1 percent), defensive miscues have led to a couple of bad even-strength goals and the penalty kill has struggled without Green’s under-the-radar talents there.

Karl Alzner said he doesn’t consciously think about stepping up his game if Green’s out, but the fact that Green is out does cross his mind.

“It is something that you notice out there, that’s for sure. He’s obviously been a part of this team for a long time now, and no one on this team quite has the skill set that Greenie has,” Alzner said. “There’s no way you can ever fill those shoes. You hope somebody steps up that game and takes over what he normally does.”

But the Capitals have to go on without him, at least for the time being. Having Erskine back after offseason shoulder surgery is a big upgrade over Sean Collins subbing for Green. The big defenseman credited Washington’s depth for being able to patch things together.

“You watch all the teams that go to the Cup and win, they’re pretty stacked on the back end,” Erskine said. “You have that guy that can jump right in the lineup and play.”

And the guys already in the lineup who can pick up pieces of Green’s duties. Wideman’s game most closely resembles Green‘s — everything from his quick-release shot from the point to his ability to ignite the offense.

Boudreau noted that, with the exception of a speed disparity, they are similar players, and Laich pointed to Wideman’s offensive mentality as a major advantage for the Capitals.

“His head’s always up and he makes confident and sharp passes into the middle of the ice,” he said. “That allows us to transition out of our zone, rather than getting stuck in scrums on the wall. It allows us to get out of our zone and in on the attack.”

That’s where Wideman’s poise at the point and quality shot come in. But he insists he doesn’t change much when Green is missing.

“You can’t just, all of a sudden, start doing something that you’re not capable of doing,” Wideman said. “You have to keep playing your game and as soon as you start trying to push too much, that’s when things go wrong on the other end.”

As Laich pointed out, every other defenseman maybe picks up his play another 10 to 15 percent, and each guy’s ice time increases a bit, too. And while the Caps are confident they have the depth and talent to make do without Green, they also understand the level of play they can reach with him.”

“It’s good that he can take his time,” Erskine said, “but the quicker he gets back, the better off our team is.”

Note: On Thursday forward Jay Beagle spoke for the first time since suffering a concussion Oct. 13 and said he hopes to resume skating Friday.

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