It fell apart for the Washington Capitals under Bruce Boudreau when defenseman Mike Green hurt his ankle and couldn’t play. Ex-assistant coach Bob Woods said Green’s absence “disrupted” the team’s success, and Boudreau had a tough time explaining how one injury contributed so heavily to his exit.
“I don’t want to put the onus on Mike getting hurt as our reason for being mediocre after that because I don’t think any one man on any team should be the difference between winning and losing,” Boudreau said after being fired as coach.
The definition of mediocre might be the Caps’ 7-12-1 record with Green out of the lineup, most recently 14 straight games with a strained right groin. He’ll miss his 15th in a row Tuesday when Washington plays host to the Philadelphia Flyers.
On Monday, coach Dale Hunter confirmed the All-Star defenseman, who hasn’t played since suffering the groin injury Nov. 11, was going to see a specialist. And while Hunter called that a good sign and noted that Green would join the Caps later this week on their road trip, there’s no timetable for Green’s return — which has forced his teammates to preach patience.
“It’s still bothering him and he’s not a hundred percent. You don’t want to push him because there’s no point if he can be out for longer,” defenseman Roman Hamrlik said. “Everybody is different. You can’t judge whether a player should play or not. He’s going to know when he’s ready. This is the kind of injury that can come back again and again.”
Groin injuries can linger for long periods of time. See fellow defenseman Tom Poti, whose last game with the Capitals was Jan. 12. He’s not with the team and is on long-term injured reserve.
Green’s injury is not believed to be season- or career-threatening, like Poti’s, which is good news given not only his value to the team but the potential for the 26-year-old to still play several good years in the NHL.
“He brings every single element to the game for us: His offense, his defense, his leadership,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “It’s just one other weapon other teams have to focus on.”
Teammates aren’t outwardly concerned about Green’s prolonged absence beyond knowing that they would like to have him in the lineup. But players such as Hamrlik, who have dealt with groin injuries, can relate.
Hamrlik said he spent an entire season with the New York Islanders battling a groin injury and didn’t feel better about it until after supervised offseason training.
“I had to tape my groin every game, every practice. I feel like 70 percent. It’s no fun,” Hamrlik said. “You don’t have power. You’re playing basically with pain, and it’s no fun.”
Because skating is an unnatural motion compared to walking or running, groin and abdominal muscles play a major role and can throw everything off.
Hamrlik cautioned that it’s prudent not to rush Green back. Doctors, trainers and Green know the situation better than anyone else. Given that the Capitals were 8-0-0 with Green in the lineup, they’re willing to suck it up for now and hope he’s 100 percent eventually.
“It’s not one of those things where you could just jump back in and battle through it because it could make it worse,” Alzner said. “So you have to wait. We’re prepared to wait until playoffs if that’s how long it were to take. That’s no big deal. We just want him back at some point and completely healthy.”