Nicklas Backstrom is the biggest missing piece for the Washington Capitals. Their chances of making the playoffs have eroded as the offense that runs through the center has hit a dam in his absence.
But defenseman Mike Green's return to the lineup last month was supposed to spark something, given his ability to provide scoring from the back end. Instead, Green's first nine games back from sports hernia surgery have been a painful adjustment back into playing shape.
"I'm just happy that I can play without any pain or whatnot. As far as getting my feel back, it's taken a lot longer," Green said Wednesday. "Sometimes you can lose a step or whatnot or your feel for the game, and it's taken me some time to kind of get back into it."
Green, whose last game before an ankle injury in October included two goals and two assists, hasn't gotten on the scoresheet in a positive way since. Since coming back from his groin injury, he has zero points and a minus-3 rating.
That's not the kind of play that's expected, but it's likely because Green isn't fully feeling like himself from a mental standpoint.
"Right now, I feel like I'm kind of like a robot," he said. "The mental part of the game where it just flows and you create and you see things before they even happen, that's the part of the game that I think has kind of taken a step back. But hopefully it peaks soon."
Much like Dennis Wideman and John Carlson, Green is an offensive-minded defenseman who has a tendency to make mistakes at the other end. Scoring goals, or at least contributing to them, is key to making up for that.
Coach Dale Hunter thinks the production is coming soon.
"Because he hasn't got it, you're going to push a little harder than you could and it's creating defensive lapses," Hunter said. "So he just has to go out and play his game, and when it's there jump up and make good plays."
Green was partially to blame on the Carolina Hurricanes' second goal in Tuesday's 4-3 overtime loss, when he was slow to get back and defend his man. That's one problem Hunter pointed to that Green is working through.
"Getting the timing on the rush," the coach said. "The gap's too big sometimes, he doesn't know the feel for it."
Put some of that on Green not having a feel for this new system, either. He played a couple of games in early January when trying to fight through his groin problem but has had to adjust on the fly since coming back full time Jan. 18.
Green was used to Bruce Boudreau's system, instilled over a period of years.
"When you have a different game plan, different system and structure, obviously things change," he said. "Guys aren't in the same spots as they used to be. .... But we need to find that and click, and we need to do it quick."
Hunter has shown Green video but suggested that it's not as much fitting into the system as it is regaining his form. That should come with more games.
"The system's not much different than Pittsburgh's or Boston's. I think it's more timing," Hunter said. "But he's a big part of this team, and we need him, and he's a character guy that wants to win. So that's why he's hard on himself. He wants to win."
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.