For the second straight season, Washington Capitals
defenseman Mike Green
was among the League's elite at his position. And for the second straight postseason, he disappeared in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In part because of Green's playoff struggles, the Capitals have failed to live up to lofty expectations for two straight postseasons, capped by a shocking first-round series loss to Montreal last spring.
So for the second straight offseason, Green has had to spend his summer dealing with the same question: "What happened?"
It's as difficult a question to answer for Green as it is to hear it.
"I don't think you can pinpoint one thing," he told NHL.com. "I think it was a combination of things. I think with us, the way things went throughout the (2009-10) season were so successful and so good. We weren't overconfident but we were a confident hockey team that we were going on, our expectations were high. When it didn't go as planned and you couldn't score goals, which we had done all year -- we scored the most goals in the league, power play was No. 1. When those things weren't going, we got frustrated and didn't know how to adjust."
Green was especially stymied. He led all NHL defensemen for a second straight season with 19 goals and 76 points. He was a Norris Trophy finalist and the Capitals finished the season with League-leading totals of 313 goals, 79 power-play goals and a 25.2-percent power-play efficiency.
The Caps won the Presidents' Trophy in impressive fashion, with their 121 points easily out-distancing the San Jose Sharks
They opened the playoffs against the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens
, a team that barely made the playoffs with just the 19th-best points total in the League. Green and the Caps were expected to make quick work of the Habs, and when Washington took a 3-1 series lead, it became a question of when, not if, they would close the series.
But that's when Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak
emerged to nearly single-handedly win the series himself. The high-flying Capitals were held to just one goal in each of the final three games of the series, including a 2-1 Game 7 loss at the Verizon Center. Green, who had been so good in the regular season, was held to just 3 assists in the series.
The year before, Green had just one goal as the Capitals had to tough out a seven-game first-round series against the Rangers. Sick, overweight and struggling to adjust to a new stick, he was held to just 4 assists and had a minus-5 rating as the Caps lost in seven games to the Pittsburgh Penguins
in the conference semifinals.
In the last two postseasons, Green has 1 goal, 12 points and a minus-4 rating in 21 games. In 143 regular-season games the last two seasons, he has 50 goals, 149 points and a plus-63 rating.
Green felt the brunt of public criticism for his lackluster effort, but he understood it because of his lofty regular-season numbers.
"I think the scope is on you more," he said. "Now that I'm getting older and people are watching and judging you, you're under the microscope a lot more. I think anytime something goes wrong … things have gone so well during the regular seasons both years, when playoffs don't turn out well, they look to the guys that should have stepped up and played to their potential. It is what it is and I deal with it."
From the last two negative endings, however, Green has been able to find some positives.
"We know we're a good hockey team," he said. "At least we could say we gave it our all. Sometimes you do your best and it just doesn't work out for whatever reason. Bad timing, whatever. Halak stood on his head. I don't know how many shots we had on the guy that were going in in the regular season. … Personally, I felt I gave it all I got. Sometimes it doesn't work out."
To keep it from happening again, Green said the goal of the 2010-11 season is to be the best team in June, not in April. It's a mental approach, he said, not a physical one. Division titles and conference championships are nice, but the real goal is to play deep into the spring.
"Having gone through those experiences, you don't want it to happen again," Green said. "In the past we just played in the moment. Now we have to prepare ourselves for the playoffs. Not just play well during the season and go through the motions. We need to mentally prepare ourselves for that grind."
To gear up for his portion of getting through the grind, Green spent the summer working on his conditioning.
"In the past … I think I've over-trained," Green said. "This year I changed, because I've got a lot of bumps and bruises that are affecting me, so I have to be more careful with what I do in the gym. I think I'm as big as I can get. It's just endurance and strength, fine-tuning the muscles you have just to keep up during the regular season. I don't think I'm going to get much bigger."
The Capitals will enter training camp with the core of their team -- Green, Alex Ovechkin
, Nicklas Backstrom
, Alexander Semin
, Mike Knuble
, Brooks Laich
, Semyon Varlamov
-- intact. Green took that as a positive -- that management trusts the group that's in place and believes it can win a Stanley Cup.
"Here we are," Green said. "We have another opportunity, and we have to make sure that we give ourselves the best chance we can."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com