Ever since Mike Green returned to the Capitals’ lineup in mid-February following sports hernia surgery, he’s fielded questions about when he would return to his previous form.
But that ignores the reality that the defenseman’s game has changed, partly in his natural evolution as a player but also because of Coach Dale Hunter’s system.
A day after he led Washington in ice time (33:28) in its 2-1 double overtime win in Game 2 against the Bruins, Green said this is the best he’s felt since before the injuries began piling up in the past two seasons.
“I feel great, yeah. A lot of energy. Probably the best I’ve felt in two years,” Green said. “My body and my state of mind. I think kind of, over the last couple years it’s been tough with injuries and stuff. I finally feel good. Not only that, I think it’s all about feel, too, and I have a good feel right now. I don’t know how to explain it.”
Green played 22 regular season games after he returned to the lineup on Feb. 18 at Tampa Bay, but he acknowledged Sunday that it took until the final few contests before the playoffs for him to finally feel at ease on the ice again with the mental aspect of the game.
This is certainly not the same Green who was a Norris Trophy finalist after the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, though. His shots miss the mark, he’s yet to score a goal since returning to the lineup and there’s a little less explosiveness in his stride.
Under Hunter, though, his role is different than when he was leading all defensemen in scoring. He’s not asked to lead the rush or to be a constant source of goals. He’s tasked with taking care of his own end, and complementing it with offensive creativity on the power play and occasionally at even strength.
Focusing on the defensive side, Green said, has been a help to his game.
“There’s not that pressure that you have to score and that’s the bottom line,” Green said. “I think it’s about playing solid, playing your position and Dale enforces that. That just brings the whole team around the same state of mind then we all play confident and we play better.”
Hunter said that while Green’s game has changed and become simpler with the emphasis on defense, the blueliner still has offensive roles. The coach said he likes the balance Green has found.
“He’s still making plays and is on the power play passing to Nicky very well and stuff,” Hunter said. “But there’s both ends to this ice and you have to defend as well as you create stuff, too, and he’s been doing that.”
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