ARLINGTON, Va. -- Washington Capitals assistant coach Todd Reirden firmly believes in devising a plan for each of his defensemen, tailoring them to best accentuate each player's strengths.
Regarding Mike Green, that meant redefining his role.
Defense - WSH
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 24 | PTS: 29
SOG: 91 | +/-: 7
"The key for Mike in talking to him this summer, even prior to getting here, is he wanted to win more hockey games," Reirden said. "However that is going to happen, he wanted to win more hockey games, as long as the plan was clear in how we were going to use him, how we were going to use all of our defensemen."
The Capitals fortified their defense via free agency by signing Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, who joined Reirden from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Niskanen and Orpik team with Karl Alzner and John Carlson to create a formidable top four, leaving Green with less responsibility.
His statistics reflect that. Entering Washington's game against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday (1 p.m. ET; NBCSN), Green is averaging 19:04 per game, down from 22:43 last season and his least since his first full season in 2006-07.
"Four minutes doesn't seem like a lot," coach Barry Trotz said. "But [if] you're playing heavy minutes against real heavy guys, it can take its toll over the course of 82 games."
There is a wider ice-time discrepancy at even strength, where Green is averaging four fewer minutes per game. As of Saturday, he started 40.9 percent of those shifts in the offensive zone, according to stats.hockeyanalysis.com, the highest rate among NHL defensemen with at least 500 minutes played.
Those less-grueling assignments have freed Green to facilitate and capitalize offensively, much like he did earlier in his career.
"I've felt comfortable playing the role they've asked me to," Green said. "It's just a different focus really. It's good. It's a lot easier on the body than playing 25 to 30 minutes a night and having to play those hard minutes. Now we have depth on defense with [Niskanen] and [Orpik], and obviously the rest of the guys to play a lot of minutes and eat up those minutes. I think it's made it easier on all of us really."
Reirden and Green have discussed how to maintain focus and properly manage his minutes while adjusting to less playing time. Green still patrols the point on Washington's 1-3-1 power play, leading Capitals defensemen in power-play ice time (3:06) and points (10), but he often finds himself on the bench during lead-protecting situations late in games.
"If we're down a goal, Mike Green's playing a little bit more," general manager Brian MacLellan said last month. "If we're up a goal, he's not playing as much."
With the Capitals clinging to a third-period lead in an eventual 5-4 shootout loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 20, for example, Green took one full shift in the final 9:37 of the third period.
Research recently conducted by JapersRink.com showed that Green's ice time when Washington has the lead has steadily increased, and Reirden has praised Green for becoming more detailed defensively. But Trotz and Reirden have relied on their top two pairs for shutdown defense.
"There's guys that are pretty sound defensively in the guys that we went out and got, and then [Carlson] and [Alzner] are just solid guys, that's sort of what their expertise is," Green said. "My expertise is in a different area."
That involves driving puck possession, which he has with a 54.7 Fenwick-for percentage as of Saturday, and jumpstarting Washington's offense from the blue line.
"He understands the strengths that he brings to our team, areas that he's one of the tops at the League at and other areas where he needs to continue to improve on," Reirden said.
Deploying their most experienced and stable defense in recent memory has benefitted the Capitals collectively and Green individually.
"He's adjusted pretty well," Trotz said. "Just like any player, he'll have some ups and downs, but I think Mike's got a pretty good comfort level in his game. … He's been pretty reliable. That's something that's maybe a little bit of a knock against Mike in the past, hasn't really been a knock for me this year."