Between 2007 and 2010, Green was the NHL's most prolific offensive defenseman. His 68 goals in that span were the most among League defensemen, 23 more than the second-highest scorer. Along the way, he set a League record for the longest consecutive goal-scoring streak by a defenseman, earned two Norris Trophy nominations and became the only defenseman to score at least 30 goals in the 21st century, a feat yet to be replicated.
During the two seasons that followed, however, the only lofty numbers the soon-to-be 28-year-old put up were games missed. A variety of ailments, from a concussion to a lingering groin problem that ultimately required surgery, cost Green 83 games, stripping the Capitals of one of their offensive catalysts.
Last season started no differently as another groin injury forced Green to miss 13 games, but upon his return to the lineup in late March, his game clicked. He scored 10 goals in the season's last 19 games, and the Capitals went 15-2-2 en route to the team's fifth Southeast Division crown in six seasons. Green finished with 13 goals, good enough to lead all NHL defensemen for the third time in six seasons.
After the injury-induced hiatus, Washington caught a long-awaited glimpse of the player that took the city and League by storm as a faux-hawked dynamo five seasons before.
"You could tell when he came back that he was healthy," Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner told NHL.com. "You can see guys play a little more confident when they feel that way."
For a player with game-changing talent like Green, confidence is key. Years of toiling on injured reserve would take its toll on anyone, but Green "just left everything else in the dust," and focused on simply playing the game.
"I definitely felt like I was in a different [frame of mind]," Green told NHL.com. "I felt relaxed; I felt that I could come back and play the game the way I like to play.
"I went through a stretch of injuries there. I haven't played hockey in a long time consistently. I just … kind of took the weight off my shoulders and just went out and played the game again and enjoyed myself."
Part of that mental transformation stemmed from coach Adam Oates and his staff's reliance on positive reinforcement, highlighting through video what Green does well as opposed to placing emphasis on fixing mistakes.
"When you constantly hear people telling you, 'Yeah, but you're always hurt,' it's easy to think like that yourself," assistant coach Calle Johansson told NHL.com. "My part would probably be to show him stuff that he does good and pump him full of confidence. Part of my duty is to show that and to prove that to him. It doesn't do any good to dwell on the bad stuff."
In order for the Capitals to compete in the new Metropolitan Division, they will need Green to showcase the smooth-skating and puck-handling abilities that have proven to bolster their already potent lineup when he is healthy. As for how they will know that Green is back to normal, there is an easy tell.
"That would be the other team being on their heels," Johansson said. "They know when Mike Green's on the ice."
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