-- New Jersey Devils
defenseman Andy Greene
knows how quickly the tide can turn for a player looking to gain the trust of a head coach in the NHL these days.
It's why he's not taking anything for granted now that he's a part of New Jersey's top defensive pair alongside veteran blueliner Bryce Salvador
. And while no player wants to see teammates sidelined by injury, Greene is certainly making the most of his opportunity in the absence of two key players who happen to patrol the back end -- Paul Martin
(fractured forearm) and Johnny Oduya
"I have no choice but to have confidence in Andy," Devils coach Jacques Lemaire
said. "From the start of training camp to right now, he's a totally different player for us -- he's been the player who stands out the most from the start of the season until now. He's good with the puck, makes good plays, is calm on the ice and doesn't get rattled."
That's quite a compliment coming from one of the League's most revered defensive minds to ever step behind the bench as a coach.
"I've felt pretty good -- you never want to see a teammate go down with an injury but at the same time, as a group, we just have to pick it up," Greene told NHL.com. "Not one person is going to pick up what Paul or Johnny does because they're too good to be replaced by one guy. It'll take a group effort and I just want to contribute wherever I can, whether that's on the power-play, 5-on-5 or the PK."
Greene has actually played a pivotal role in solidifying the Devils, helping lead the club to a 4-1-0 mark in the absence of Martin (the past 5 games) and Oduya (3 games). He's averaged over 25 minutes the last three contests and has exhibited the type of poise and moxie Lemaire looks for in his defensemen.
"You realize you're getting more minutes but I don't feel it physically," Greene said. "That's why we train year-round now -- for things like this. You have to be ready to step up and I wouldn't want a lack of conditioning to be the reason for something negative happening."
In addition to receiving plenty of ice time 5-on-5, the third-year defender is also gaining minutes on the top power-play and penalty-killing units. It's a pretty unique experience for a guy who went undrafted but signed as a free agent in April 2006. He participated in 49 games last season -- missing 18 with a broken hand -- under former coach Brent Sutter
. As a rookie in 2007-08, he notched career highs with 8 assists and 10 points in 59 matches.
Under Lemaire's close watch this season, he has a goal and 4 assists in 11 games. He's also blocked 8 shots.
"Obviously, (Sutter and Lemaire) are different personalities -- different people," Greene said. "But, at the same time, we want to be good defensively and want to push pucks up the ice and be a good transition team. That's something both coaches stress so it hasn't been too much of an adjustment in that regard."
Greene hopes to continue his consistent play with his teammates on the mend.
"As a kid, you dream to be playing and contributing in this League," Greene said. "The longer you move along in your career, you start to realize it could become a possibility and the first step for me was to get to college. Once I got there, I began to think the NHL was a possibility."
Greene played four seasons at Miami University of Ohio, totaling 27 goals, 114 points and 256 penalty minutes in 159 games. He finished first among Miami's defensemen during each of his four seasons and appeared in every game over that span.
"I've always tried to play my game and keep it simple," Greene admitted. "I just have to make smart plays out there."
Greene has actually played alongside Salvador and rookie Mark Fraser
. Having Salvador at his side has made playing smart a whole lot easier.
"It's easy to play with him," Greene said. "He's a veteran guy who has been in all situations. He's calm and makes the smart plays. The biggest part is we communicate well together and whenever you can do that (as a tandem), it makes it a lot easier."
Contact Mike Morreale at: email@example.com.