Scoring spree coincides with team's hot streak
Capitals defenseman Mike Green deftly stopped a whistling puck with his blade, waited an extra beat and casually wristed a shot past Boston goalie Tuukka Rask.
That particular power-play goal Saturday night was "an all-world" move, according to Washington coach Adam Oates, but one that looked deceptively simple. Green scored twice during that 3-2 victory over the Boston Bruins at Verizon Center. He now has 10 goals and nine assists in 19 games since he returned from a groin injury March 21. That's definite cause for concern for the New York Rangers, who are the Caps' opponent in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs this week.
"You enjoy playing the game again," Green said. "Coming to the rink every day knowing that you have the confidence and your body's stable enough to play, it's a lot of fun."
Indeed, Green's run of injury woes began Feb. 6, 2011, when he was struck in the side of the head by an errant slap shot during a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He returned later that month only to be crunched in the jaw by Rangers center Derek Stepan. Green played just two of the final 28 regular-season games that year thanks to post-concussion symptoms before returning for the playoffs. Last year he was off to a fine start before a lingering groin injury eventually required sports hernia surgery. He missed another 50 games and has appeared in just 69 of the last 155 Caps' regular-season games he was eligible for (45 percent).
Back on the ice and healthy again, Green led all NHL defensemen with 12 goals in 2013 -- and did so in just 35 games. He missed 13 more in February and March this season with another groin injury, and his current hot streak began just one game after his return from that injury. But Oates says Green's presence on the ice is about more than just tallying goals and assists.
"Mike, to me, should be a Norris Trophy candidate every year," Oates said. "Obviously he's had a tough injury bug, but he's our guy back there that we're counting on to have all those touches. Obviously goals are great. You don't necessarily look for that. I look for his decisions with the puck."
That means smart breakout passes, skating the puck out of trouble and understanding when to jump into a play and when the risk isn't worth it. Long a player with a reputation as an offensive specialist, Green is trying to show the all-around skills that made him a Norris Trophy finalist in both 2008-09 and 2009-10. That remains a work-in-progress with 2.41 goals against Washington for every 60 minutes Green is on the ice. That ranked 104th among NHL defensemen with at least 30 games played this season. Still, it's no coincidence the Caps are 15-2-2 since Green's latest return to health.
"[Green is] a big part of our power play, obviously. But he's a big part of our five-on-five hockey," teammate Matt Hendricks said. "He does a great job on the penalty kill when he's out there. He's an all-around great player."