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Over the Boards: Green, Kesler healthy, ready to go

Wednesday, 09.18.2013 / 9:00 AM
Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Senior Writer

Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green finally is buying what he's been trying to sell to himself for the past three seasons.

For the first time since he entered training camp in 2010 fresh off his most productive NHL season, Green is saying with certainty that he is healthy, hungry, excited and raring to go. He had been talking a similar game as he entered training camp in 2011 and 2012, hoping that somehow his optimism would mask the underlying truth, only to jump onto the ice, get to work and realize it couldn't.

Now he has nothing holding him back.

"It's kind of like an emotional rollercoaster, because you tell yourself you feel good and then you go on the ice and you think you're good and you feel good, but you're not," Green told NHL.com last week after a practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va. "You're not 100 percent and it kind of weighs on you and you're not just able to go play the game. Now it's all gone and now I feel I can just go play the game."

Green no longer worries about the repercussions of taking a hit, as he did after sustaining a concussion that cost him the final 33 regular-season games in 2010-11. He said his groin problems, which plagued him the past two seasons and kept him out of 63 games, are history.

Instead of rehabbing an injury, Green trained in the offseason exactly the way he wanted to, making himself leaner and stronger.

The soon-to-be 28-year-old (his birthday is Oct. 12) is knocking on wood that nothing prevents him from becoming a Norris Trophy candidate again, like he was in 2009 and 2010.

"I'm praying nothing happens, but it doesn't matter who you are, [injuries] happen and you've got to come out of it at some point," he said. "I've found a way to take care of my body now that I feel is going to be more efficient to hopefully prevent these injuries. It's all a learning experience for some of us."

Green has a body of work to build on from last season, when he scored 12 goals and had 14 assists in 35 games. He missed 13 of 15 games from Feb. 17-March 19 with a groin injury, but recovered in time for the stretch run and was effective, with 10 goals in the final 19 games.

He scored twice in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, including the overtime winner in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the New York Rangers, but the Capitals lost the series in seven games.

"I'm telling you, I couldn't wait to come back," Green said.

Part of that is because of the stability the Capitals have under coach Adam Oates and the familiarity they have with his "extremely intelligent" system, Green said.

"It's brilliant and it's a well-balanced system, which I feel we have been craving as players for years," Green said. "We finally have it, so we're going to take advantage of it."

The other part is because Green feels free on the ice and finally is confident that he can reach the high expectations he has for himself and the team has for him.

"I think it's time I become a dangerous player again," Green said.

Kesler healthy, Tortorella eager

Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler got to know coach John Tortorella at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics when they were part of the United States' silver-medal team. He's thrilled to be working with him again in Vancouver.

"He's going to be good," Kesler told NHL.com of Tortorella. "He's intense. He's passionate. He hates to lose and I love that in a coach."

On top of all those things, Tortorella is a big Ryan Kesler fan.

"I watched him a couple of years ago in that Nashville series," Tortorella told NHL.com, referencing the 2011 Western Conference Semifinals, when Kesler had 11 points in six games against the Nashville Predators. "He was unbelievable, so I know it's there."

Tortorella put the onus on himself to get Kesler back to playing at or near the level he was at during the 2010-11 season, when he scored a career-high 41 goals en route to 73 points in the regular season and then had 19 points in 25 games in the playoffs.

It's an attainable goal now because Kesler entered training camp healthy after staying off the operating table this summer.

He underwent hip surgery after the 2010-11 season and shoulder surgery following the 2011-12 season. Kesler played 77 games in 2011-12, but his goal production dipped from 41 to 22. He appeared in 17 games last season and had 13 points.

"He's one of the key components of our club that is going to have to be better," Tortorella said. "It's part of my job to try to find that in him. I think he's willing. We've had conversations about it. He can do everything you can in the game and I'm going to ask him to do that, and consistently. If we can keep him as healthy as he is right now, I'm really anxious to work with him to try to get him to another level."

Get ready to see plenty of Marc Staal

Rangers defenseman Marc Staal has played in one of the team's two preseason games so far, but chances are he'll see plenty of ice time next week when the team resumes its preseason schedule in Western Canada.

Staal, who said he has no lingering problems with the eye injury he sustained last season, has asked Rangers coach Alain Vigneault to allow him to play a lot in the preseason. He missed 33 of 34 games after getting struck in the right eye with Kimmo Timonen's deflected slap shot during a game against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 5.

"Usually when you play six games your veteran guys will play three; he's asked to play more," Vigneault said. "He wants to get out on the ice and get himself in game shape, game reads and game condition. I'm going to give him the opportunity to play more than the standard three."

How many hasn't been determined yet because of the upcoming schedule. New York plays four preseason games in five nights in four different cities next week. It opens the regular season Oct. 3 in Phoenix, the first of nine straight road games to start the season.

"It's good in a sense," Vigneault said of the schedule. "I'm going to carry a few more guys and it's going to give me a longer read and probably a more accurate read on players we have in our organization."

Another thing to watch for with shallow nets

Capitals general manager George McPhee brought up an interesting viewpoint when discussing the shallower (four inches slimmer) nets the NHL will use this season.

"One thing people don't talk about a whole lot is the angle from behind the net and trying to make passes out to people," McPhee said. "You have another inch or two there that could make a difference. We'll see."

The first thought most people have when examining the shallower nets is how much easier it will be for players to score on wraparounds since there is less ground to cover and they can get the puck to the front of the net quicker. However, McPhee's point makes a lot of sense, especially for creative forwards with strong passing skills.

"I think you're probably going to see a few plays based on that, but I'm curious to see how many," Oates said. "It's one of those things that until you see it, it's tough to evaluate it."

This and that

* It's unclear if Damien Brunner couldn't get an NHL contract during the summer because he was asking for too much money -- "Don't believe everything you hear," his agent, Neil Sheehy, wrote to NHL.com in an e-mail -- and it doesn't matter anymore.

Brunner has a chance to earn a contract with the New Jersey Devils, who brought him in on a professional tryout Monday. While he has no promises of a contract for the 2013-14 season from Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello, it stands to reason Brunner should be able to earn one because he's versatile enough to play either wing and rotate between a top-six and bottom-six role.

The Devils also could use the depth as insurance. Jaromir Jagr (41) already has been held out of practice because of general soreness. Ryane Clowe is coming off multiple concussions last season. Patrik Elias is 37 years old. Reid Boucher will push for a roster spot, but he's only 20 years old.

Brunner had 26 points in 44 games for the Detroit Red Wings last season. His production tailed off in the second half, when he had 10 points in his final 25 games after putting up 16 in his first 19 games, but he got back on track with nine points in 14 playoff games.

* McPhee once again attempted to put to rest any rumors that Alex Ovechkin could be looking to follow Ilya Kovalchuk's path to the Kontinental Hockey League.

"He's always been straight-up with us," McPhee said. "He says he wants to be here. He is here and he is committed."

Ovechkin hasn't stated anything that would suggest he's thinking about abandoning his contract and the Capitals to play in the KHL.

McPhee took it further and said the growing presence of the KHL will not deter him from drafting Russian players, which he has done nine times in the past 10 drafts, starting with Ovechkin as the No. 1 pick in 2004.

"I'll go anywhere and take players at any point in the draft from anywhere if they're good hockey players," he said. "That's the bottom line. We want hockey players and I don't care where they come from."

* Tortorella admitted he's concerned that because of the Canucks' age -- eight players expected to be in the opening-night lineup are 30 or older -- there aren't enough NHL-ready or near NHL-ready prospects in the organization.

"It's a concern of mine," Tortorella said. "You need to keep on infusing young kids into the lineup because as older players start to get a little bit older and you don't develop the kids with them, all of a sudden you have an old team with no kids and that's when you start spinning your wheels. We're talking about a mindset change, about playing harder and more aggressive. I think kids bring you that."

He referenced the difference in his former team, the Rangers, when Carl Hagelin joined the club from the American Hockey League two seasons ago. Hagelin debuted Nov. 25, 2011 and played in 64 straight games, scoring 38 points. The Rangers went 41-19-7 in those games.

"You saw what Hagelin did when we brought him up, it changed our team completely," Tortorella said. "Hopefully we can have something like that happen in camp without forcing it and hurting the development of a young player."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

QUOTEBOOK

Alain Vigneault talking before the preseason game Monday about why he wasn't overly emotional going into his first game as Rangers coach:

"Right now I've got so many things going on in my little French brain here that I haven't had time to sort it all out. I've got a lot of things that I'm thinking about right now."

Tim Thomas on how he feels as he tries to restart his career with the Florida Panthers:

"I have a new love for playing the game and just a newfound appreciation for being able to play a game at this level and to be part of a team. I'm doing a bad job of describing that, but I just feel totally new. My time in Boston was great. I'm very fortunate to have had the type of personal and team success that I had there. Great teammates, great area. The people of that area really allowed me almost to be a part of their family, but this is a totally new start, a totally new place and I'm looking forward to what is going to happen in the future here."

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