When the Caps made the Feb. 28, 2011 trade to acquire defenseman Dennis Wideman from the Florida Panthers, it gave them a third right-handed puck-moving defenseman to go along with Mike Green and John Carlson. The swap came three days after Green was injured in a game against the New York Rangers, and by the time Green came back later in the season Wideman had been felled with a season-ending injury of his own.
It wasn’t until opening night of the 2011-12 season that Washington was able to put Green, Carlson and Wideman on the ice for the same game. The Capitals started the season 7-0, but Green injured his ankle in a 7-1 win over Detroit on Oct. 22, a game in which he had two goals and two assists. He missed the next several games before returning to the lineup on Nov. 11 against the Devils in Newark, but his stay was short-lived. Green sustained a groin injury in New Jersey and he has been out of the lineup since.
Tonight, the Caps host the Calgary Flames. And they’ll have Green back in the lineup for the first time in nearly two months. Including the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, Green has suited up for just 17 of Washington’s last 72 games. The Caps have been able to ice their trio of right-handed puck movers just eight times in the team’s last 65 games, including the playoffs.
It’s fair to expect Green to have some rust as he takes the Verizon Center ice tonight.
“We’ve sat down and we’ve gone over what we’re expecting in the [defensive] zone and things off the rush and stuff like that, so he has a pretty good understanding and awareness of what we’re trying to accomplish in the defensive zone.,” says Caps assistant coach Jim Johnson of Green. “For us, it’s mainly getting him into the game, getting his legs going, letting him adjust to the speed of the game and easing him in. That’s going to be the main thing. You ease him in, but at the same time but at the same time we’ve got to keep him fresh, too, so he doesn’t sit for long periods of time. I think it’s easier to do that at home and I’m glad that tonight’s an opportunity to get him back in the lineup.
“Obviously, we’re excited to get him back in the lineup. We’re going to monitor him as the game goes and how he feels. He is going to dictate that and let me know. We’ve got to communicate on the bench and during the game to how he is feeling and then for me to see how he is adjusting to the speed of the game. You can only do so much. Now it’s game conditioning for him and adjusting to the speed of the game. We’ll monitor him closely and ease him in and hopefully get him some power play time. I think that will be a good situation for him to get a good feel for the game.”
While Green was on the sidelines, the Caps made a coaching change. So tonight will be the first time he plays for Dale Hunter, who took over the coaching reins on Nov. 28. Hunter installed a new system of play and Green will need some time to assimilate that as well.
“It’s going to be different, but I’ve got to start somewhere,” says Green. “I’ve been going over game tape with the coaches and I’ve had a couple of practices now where I can try to mold into the way they play, but it’s going to be a learning experience for me. I hope nobody else expects me to be able to pick it up just like that. If I do, that’s a bonus.”
With winger Alexander Semin ailing because of an undisclosed injury, the Caps will dress seven defensemen for the first time in recent memory, a strategy that will enable them to ease Green back in and manage his ice time and his situational use.
Green will start the game on the right side of a blueline pairing with rookie Dmitry Orlov.
“I’ve watched some film of Greenie obviously and I’ve seen early in the season when he played with [Roman Hamrlik], so I know that can be a real effective combination,” says Johnson. “So we’ll look at that, obviously. But Hammer has played very well with [Dennis Wideman] too, so I don’t want to split that up right away. We’ll start [Green] with [Dmitry] Orlov, put Orlov back on the left side where I think he’s a little bit more comfortable. And we’ll ease Mike in and see how things are going.
“It’s easy to switch those pairings around where I can move Hamrlik with Greenie and Orlov back up with Wideman because they’ve played together also. We’ve got a lot of options there and Erskine can go with either Wides or Orlov, [if we] put Orlov back on the off side. I’m pretty comfortable with it because there are a lot of options. We’ll see how things roll and how Greenie feels out there and how he adjusts to the speed of the game.”