- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mike Green was a Norris Trophy candidate two years ago on the strength of his offense.

But that was 2010, and this is Dale Hunter’s Washington Capitals in 2012.

“You don’t judge your game by how many goals and assists you have. It’s how you play,” Hunter said of Green’s game Monday night. “I think Mike, he moved the puck well. When he was out there, he controlled the game, and that’s what we need from Mike.”

In Detroit on Monday, Green picked up his first point since Oct. 22, an assist on an empty-net goal. While the production hasn’t been there for the 26-year-old defenseman in 13 games since returning from sports hernia surgery, he might finally be getting his “feel” back.

“We’re starting to see that Mike Green of old again,” defenseman Jeff Schultz said. “The passes, jumping into the play, getting shots and stuff like that, that everybody knows Mike Green as a player for.”

Green is sensing that, too. He admitted the timing was taking a while to come back, but against the Red Wings his game was noticeably sharper than in recent weeks.

“I feel like I’m back now,” Green said. “Even if I was suspended there and had some time off, I got my feel back now, and it’s just a matter of being consistent every night.”

Green’s game, at its best, is a mix of inconsistent defensive play and dynamic stuff on the offensive end. From 2007 to 2010, the blueliner had 68 goals and 137 assists. He can be the power-play quarterback and a legitimate threat to score in all situations, and he developed better penalty-killing sense in recent seasons.

In Hunter’s system, Green is counted on to spark the offense by moving the puck out of the defensive zone quickly. Even that has been an adjustment to how he used to feel.

“It’s just a matter of getting your feel and making the play. I think your timing’s off and maybe you hesitate and then you don’t make the right play at the right time,” he said. “But that’s seemed to have come now, and everything’s just instinct. You see it and you make it and that’s usually where good things come from.”

Good things in Green’s game come when he scores. But after missing 47 games with ankle and groin injuries and three more with a suspension, getting back to the “Mike Green of old” takes baby steps.

“It’s a different season for him because he was injured a lot and now he just came back and … it looks like he’s moving the puck much better and he keeps his feet moving,” defenseman Roman Hamrlik said. “That’s his game. He’s such a good skater and he can create offense.”

Green had been paired with Schultz for several games, but he was back with Hamrlik against the Red Wings, something that worked well earlier in the season before the ankle injury.

There’s a comfort level there between Green and the 37-year-old veteran that seems to work well.

“Roman talks, he’s experienced and he’s very easy to play with,” Green said. “That makes it a lot easier as his partner.”

Hamrlik was more of an offensive player earlier in his career, something Hunter said helps those two skating together. Now, the former No. 1 overall pick is something of a safety valve for Green.

“I think he can enjoy the rush more and offense and I’m more steady guy, the defense,” Hamrlik said.

Green wants his all-around game to be more consistent, too, but that could take time.

“He talks and he’s been in the league long enough to know the game. He knows what it takes and how to help the team win more games,” Hamrlik said. “It looks like he’s played with lots of confidence the last game, so that’s good to see.”

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