- The Washington Times - Monday, October 10, 2011

Mike Green made a mistake in the Washington Capitals‘ season opener on Saturday that led to a power-play goal. He owned up to it. Coach Bruce Boudreau admitted Green erred on the play. And that was it.

A couple of years ago it might have been the centerpiece of discussion. But now, the offensive-minded defenseman is earning praise from inside the team and out for his defensive improvements.

“I didn’t see a defensive man that improved more defensively than Mike Green [last season],” NBC sports analyst Eddie Olczyk said recently. “Yes, his points suffered by it severely. But I thought he became a better defenseman. And I think he committed to be that way.”

Talk to Green, and you know the answer is yes. As recently as the 2009-10 season, he was a point-a-game player with 76 in 75 games. A year earlier, he averaged 1.07 points a game.

Those numbers would ordinarily merit a Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman. But many around the NHL saw the holes in Green’s defensive game. He did, too.

“It was an attribute in my game that I personally wanted to work on, and last year was my steppingstone for that,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to try to become that complete defenseman, and last year I really focused on completing that.”

It’s early. Washington’s game against Tampa Bay on Monday night was just its second. But Green’s offensive bounce seems to be back. Boudreau lauded the soon-to-be-26-year-old for skating well and jumping up into the play.

But that always has been part of his game. Karl Alzner saw it when playing against Green at the junior level in the Western Hockey League.

“Watching him play then, it was no secret that his offensive skill was insane,” said Alzner, also a defenseman. “He was one of the best, including all the forwards, in the league.”

The Caps’ new defensive style last year allowed Green to make the change, but Olczyk pointed out that his production suffered - in large part because of concussion problems. He played just 49 games and recorded just 24 points.

A return to the “old” Green with offensive production and defensive responsibility is no doubt something Boudreau would enjoy.

“I think he’s going to really want to be a two-way defenseman. At the same time, I don’t think he wants to hurt himself offensively,” he said. “That’s his bread and butter.”

But the coach pointed to team-wide success on defense last season and noted that Green was a big part of it, in spite of his reputation. But it’s a reputation that, at least in Olczyk’s eyes, might be changing.

“I think he’s much-maligned about it, and I’m glad somebody took notice and gave Mike some kudos for it,” Boudreau said.

Teammates applaud Green for the defensive commitment, which could not only make him more dangerous but help the entire corps. Given the Capitals‘ depth on the blue line, no one defenseman should have to play 30 minutes a night anymore, so Green won’t be taxed too much.

But with maybe some reduced ice time, Green could be more effective while he seeks to continue developing an all-around game.

“Greenie’s one of those guys that he adapts to his situation, and he knows that he’s got to do the same thing he does offensively, defensively,” Alzner said. “He does whatever is necessary in terms of positioning, backchecking, working even harder, getting in better shape. Whatever is necessary, he’s doing it.”

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