Mike Green saw the white netting staring at him. The backdoor pass from Alex Ovechkin was so perfect that all Green had to do was not miss the open net and he had his first goal since October.
But Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson slid over to make the kind of glove save that causes nightmares, snaring the puck just before it went over the goal line.
"I thought I had it the whole time," Green lamented. "I couldn't sleep that night."
His injury-plagued season undoubtedly has caused the Washington Capitals defenseman many sleepless nights. Green missed six games with an ankle injury, three with a suspension and 41 because of surgery.
In 20 games since coming back from a sports hernia operation, Green has just a secondary assist on an empty-net goal. There has been an emphasis on defense, but still it's hard to fathom for someone who just two seasons ago racked up 76 points.
"But I notice that he gets a little frustrated. He's not in some of the situations where he has been for most of his NHL career [when] he gets used in all the offensive situations," defenseman Karl Alzner said, pointing to the contributions of Dennis Wideman and John Carlson. "It's tough when you don't get as much opportunity as you normally do. We're so focused on defense, its hard to put up those numbers."
It's true that Dale Hunter's system relies little on blue-line production. Of the Caps' 210 goals through 80 games, just 29 came from defensemen. In 2008-09, Green scored 31 goals.
That kind of past performance, though, is why Green, 26, is expected to put up numbers. But he said he has been asked to play "solid defense" instead of worrying about a highly offensive role.
It forces him to judge his game on something other than points.
"Just on consistency," he said. "Playing well, doing the simple things and playing the system. The coaches have a great game plan, and I'm abiding by it."
On a pairing with Roman Hamrlik, though, Green is the offensive spark. And despite not putting up points, he has done a good job of moving the puck and jump-starting the attack.
Hamrlik has seen his defensive partner's confidence improve drastically since the first few games back from the surgery.
"He's moving the puck very well, and he sees the ice very well," Hamrlik said. "His game is skating, make the first pass. We talk before the games. He's the one who can go and enjoy the rush and make something happen and I'm steady back."
Green might not be able to enjoy it as much without something on the stat sheet, though. After Roloson made his stunning save Monday in what would be a 4-2 Capitals loss, Green slammed his stick against the glass in frustration.
And though those emotions are sure to boil over, his coach doesn't want him to let that detract from his game on the other end of the ice.
"He's trying to create stuff, and sometimes it just doesn't go," Hunter said. "I worry about him playing defense more than anything. You can't go out there and say 'I'm going to score.' You have to just go out there and play hockey."
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