Mike Green was the most prolific offensive defenseman in the NHL with back-to-back 70-point seasons starting in 2008-09. Now, he had gone 26 games without a goal, dating to Oct. 22.
Yet he’s playing top minutes for the Washington Capitals and is thriving.
“I feel great,” he said. “Probably the best I’ve felt in two years.”
It might not be quite the evolution of a former Norris Trophy finalist, but it’s a positive sign in these playoffs that Green finally is starting to feel normal again. The offense hasn’t been there since his return from sports hernia surgery, but he’s healthy and that’s significant.
“I think just my body and the state of mind I’m in. I think kind of over the last couple years, it’s been tough with injuries and whatnot,” Green said. “I finally feel good. Not only that, I think it’s all about feel, too, and I have a good feel. I don’t know how to explain it.”
Back when Green was one of the Caps’ most explosive offensive threats, it would have been inexplicable that he was so positive despite putting up just one point (an assist on an empty-net goal) in 24 games through Game 2 of the first-round series with the Boston Bruins.
But coach Dale Hunter and defensive partner Roman Hamrlik agree with Green’s self-assessment.
“He’s playing well for us,” Hunter said. “He’s moving the puck up, and it’s tight hockey out there, and you know, we need him to play good defense, and the offense always comes.”
Green used to bury open shots from between the circles because the Caps needed him to provide scoring.
But as Karl Alzner indicated, having defensemen such as Dennis Wideman and John Carlson eases the burden on Green. Hunter’s system, which is predicated more on defense from the blue line, helps, too.
“There’s not that pressure that you have to score, and that’s the bottom line,” Green acknowledged. “I think that it’s about playing solid and playing your position, and Dale enforces that. That just brings the whole team around the same state of mind, and then we all feel confident and we play better.”
Green is brimming with confidence because he’s contributing in other ways. He’s creating breakouts and snuffing out the Bruins’ forecheck by moving the puck quickly.
Hamrlik praised the 26-year-old’s patience with the puck, adding, “he looks better every game he’s playing.” And feeling that way, too. It was a long time from his first game back, on Feb. 18, until Green felt like himself again.
“Probably about a game or two before playoffs, to be honest. It was weird how it took that long, but being out that long, I think [it’s more] the mental game. … I felt great physically, but mentally I need to find it again.”
Hamrlik and Green developed chemistry over the last few regular-season games, and their ease of communication prevents a lot of mistakes. Hamrlik knows he’s the safety valve if his partner jumps up into the play, but Green also isn’t so worried about pinching that it hurts on the defensive end.
That kind of all-around game is what earned him a team-high ice time of 33:28 in Game 2, which went two overtimes. And though Green joked that he was hoping someone would win it early in that fifth period, he said he felt great even with the heavy workload.
“Even going into that second overtime, I still felt like I had a lot of energy, which is nice,” he said. “Usually, it’s either you feel good or you feel absolutely awful.”
There’s nothing awful about Green’s game. And perhaps a lot of it has to do with keeping things simple.
“He’s still making plays. He’s on power plays. He’s passing … very well,” Hunter said. “And you have to defend as well as you create something. He’s been doing that.”