-- The Capitals will open the 2012 calendar year at Verizon Center with a familiar face back in their lineup. Defenseman Mike Green
expects to play Tuesday night against the Calgary Flames
after missing 23 games with a groin strain.
"Finally," Green said after the Caps morning skate. "It's been frustrating sitting out, and obviously a couple of months ago after coming back [from an earlier ankle injury] and then that first game back [forced] back in the press box, so I'm just happy to be back, focused, preparing to do the right things tonight and that's all that's on my mind."
Since the Capitals opened the season with a League-best 7-0-0 record, Green has missed 29 of the past 30 games. Green twisted his right ankle Oct. 22 in a 7-1 win over Detroit in which he collected 2 goals and 2 assists.
Defense - WSH
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 3 | PTS: 6
SOG: 18 | +/-: 1
The two-time Norris Trophy nominee returned to the Caps' lineup Nov. 11 in New Jersey only to suffer a groin injury after he was hit along the boards by Devils forward Ryan Carter
. Green has not played since.
"It's not butterflies, I think it's just more you're unsure," he said. "I haven't played a game in forever, and not only that but with last year I haven't played a consecutive amount of games in a long time."
Dating back to last season, when Green was sidelined with a concussion, the 26-year-old has missed 55 of Washington's last 64 regular season games.
"This will be a great day for me but I'm very unsure of how it will go. I just have to play safe," he said.
Conservative play has rarely been associated with the high-risk, high-reward defenseman who led all NHL blueliners in scoring in 2008-09 and 2009-10. But Green acknowledged that he won't exactly be "jumping up all over the ice" in his first game back.
"I think you've got to ease yourself in," he said. "I think it's important for me to get my game back and it's better that I try to do that slowly rather than quickly. I don't intend on going up and down the ice tonight. I mean, you've got to get in game shape."
Capitals coach Dale Hunter
said Green is 100 percent, but agreed the one concern as he returns to the ice will be his conditioning. Both Green and Hunter said he will be eased in before returning to his usual 25-or-more minutes a night. With Alexander Semin
sidelined due to an undisclosed injury, Hunter's lineup will consist of 11 forwards and seven defensemen.
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"We got a plan," Hunter said, "but we don’t want to overplay him either. We've got seven 'D' so he shouldn't have to lug a lot of minutes, either."
Tonight also marks the first time that Green will play since Hunter's Nov. 28 hiring.
"It's going to be different, but I have to start somewhere," Green said of learning Hunter's system. "I've been going over game tape with the coaches, I've had a couple of practices now where I could try to mold into the way they play, but it's going to be a learning experience for me and I hope that nobody else expects me to pick it up just like that. If I do, it's a bonus."
Green has taken part in every Capitals practice or morning skate dating back to last Monday, and has also spent time practicing with the Caps' power-play unit.
In eight games this season, Green has 3 goals and 6 points. The Caps are 8-0-0 when he's in the lineup; 12-15-2 without him.
"Every player wants to play," Hunter said. "When you're sitting out, it’s no fun. The fun starts when you start to actually skate. And then it’s even better when you actually start to play games. He’s chomping at the bit. We have to monitor him. [Trainer Greg Smith] will do a good job on the bench and see where he’s at."
Added team captain Alex Ovechkin
: "It's a good day for our team and a good day for him as well. He's probably very tired of not being able to play hockey and to see us play while he's getting treatment and working out with [strength and conditioning coach Mark] Nemish, so for him I think it's going to be a big day."