The Caps took off right around the same time that defenseman Mike Green’s career took off. Green was basically a No. 5 or 6 defenseman at the start of the 2007-08 season, skating anywhere from 15 to 19 minutes a night, occasionally logging 20 minutes and occasionally showing flashes of his dynamic offensive talent.
Once Bruce Boudreau took over the coaching reins from Glen Hanlon in late November of 2007, Green’s fortunes rose and the Caps’ rose with it. He scored the first goal of Boudreau’s bench administration and finished that ’07-08 season with 18 goals and 56 points.
Green played in all 82 games that season, and he led all NHL blueliners in goals, becoming the youngest defenseman to do so since Paul Coffey a quarter of a century earlier. Green contributed three goals and seven points in Washington’s seven playoff games in the spring of ’08, his first taste of Stanley Cup hockey.
Since then, Green has missed a total of 80 – and still counting – games. He has missed 59 of those 80 games since the start of last season.
When Green misses games, his team misses him. Dating back to Nov. 22, 2007 when Boudreau took over, the Caps are 162-62-38 with Green in the lineup. That’s a points pct. of .691. In the 80 games he has missed over that span, the Caps are 45-32-3 (.581).
This season, the difference is even more pronounced. The Caps are 8-0 with Green in the lineup, and they’re 9-15-2 without him.
On Tuesday, Green took to the ice for his first full practice with his teammates in more than a month. Since hanging a four-point game (two goals, two assists) in a 7-1 win over the Red Wings on Oct. 22, Green has played just over seven minutes in one game, a Nov.11 contest at New Jersey. He suffered a groin injury in that game and has been sidelined since.
“Good,” said Green, when asked how it felt I finally was able to skate with the team. “I’m making a lot of progress here. I’m still day-to-day and nothing has changed as far as the plan from before. But the good thing is I’m back on the ice and feeling good.”
He played in just two games over the last two months of last season, and then returned in time to get into eight of Washington’s nine playoff games last spring. Now, for the second straight season, he has been sidelined for a lengthy period of time.
“I’ve been training hard off the ice and doing everything I can to stay in shape,” says Green, “but until you get back on the ice and you get skating, it’s hard to train for hockey. But I feel as good as I possibly could going back on the ice today. I just need a few skates to get my lungs and my legs back and I’ll be back in no time.”
The Caps could use him back in no time. They’ve been unable to string together more than two consecutive wins while he has been out of the lineup. Washington has had a terrific trio of right-handed defensemen in Green, Dennis Wideman and John Carlson since Wideman was obtained from Florida last Feb. 28, but they’ve had all three on the ice for only eight of a possible 62 games – including the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs – because of injuries to Wideman and Green.
“I could not wait to get back out there and skate with the guys,” says Green. “It’s been tough watching hockey and not being a part of it. For me to get back out there and be a part of this and smile a little bit – I think I had a smile on my face the whole time I was out there – it feels good. You don’t realize how much you miss it until you’re gone for a while.”
Green also believes that he is not 100 percent and won’t be for a while. He also believes he’ll need to monitor his current ailment over the remainder of his career.
“I think I’m going to have to be cognizant of this through the rest of my career, probably,” he says. “It’s something that you’ve got to take care of, especially with hockey; it’s such a common thing. It’s just maintenance right now, making sure that I’m on top of my stuff and getting better. I don’t think I’ll be 100 percent for a long time, but I’ve just got to get to that stage where I can play.”
Green has yet to take the ice for Washington with Dale Hunter behind the bench, but he has been watching keenly as his teammates have posted a 5-6-1 Hunter’s first dozen games behind the bench.
“It’s a great system, we’ve just got to buy in here,” says Green of Hunter’s way of playing the game. “I think it’s taking some adjustment and we’re coming along. As players, we need to pick it up. We haven’t been all that good lately, and it comes down to the simple things and playing smart hockey. You have a system in place, but you’ve got to play hard and make sure you’re doing the right things.
“I’ve enjoyed being around Dale here. I recently was able to talk to him; I was out and didn’t see him much. [He’s a] great guy. He’s a very easy coach to deal with and you know exactly what you’re going to get from him. He’s an honest coach.”