Late in the Capitals’ 4-0 win over Winnipeg on Thursday night, Mike Green gathered the puck behind the net and skated to the half wall to clear it out of the defensive zone. After Green released the puck, Jets forward Evander Kane cross-checked the defenseman into the boards.
It was a late and unnecessary hit, one that earned Kane a minor for cross-checking and a 10-minute misconduct, and it was the latest example of opponents targeting Washington’s No. 1 defenseman. Welcome back to game action, Mike Green.
“It’s a part of the game; obviously it’s a physical game, but every little opportunity we have to minimize it. And he’s a targeted man,” Coach Adam Oates said. “He’s got to come to grips with that — that they’re after him. They’re talking about Mike Green tonight. It will sure help him the more he understands that.”
Green skated 22:44 and 19:48 in back-to-back contests against the Jets this week, his first games back in the lineup after missing 10 consecutive games and 13 of the previous 15 with a nagging groin injury.
He recorded a goal in Friday’s 6-1 win, but more reassuring at this stage was how Green weathered the physical contact and aggressive play from an opponent without an ill effects.
“It’s a good feeling but I’m used to it. I’m used to that sort of play against myself. There was no inkling of any sort of pain or anything,” Green said Sunday morning at Madison Square Garden.
“My whole goal when I was coming back was that I had to be 100 percent, [General Manager] George [McPhee] and I talked about it,” Green said. “You can only ever play the game efficient when you feel good. You eliminate a lot of little bumps and bruises along the way because you’re able to move and get out of the way so I was fine.”
Opponents have long sought to rattle Green and throw him off his game through physical play. One of the objectives of Oates’s system is to protect defensemen from taking significant physical contact on a regular basis. By having a five-man unit working to create support it allows the blue-liners to make quick, efficient passes and move the puck up out of the zone ideally before they have to take a hit.
While the system should help in some cases, there’s responsibility on Green to protect himself.
Over the past three regular seasons, when injuries have limited Green to 102 out of 195 possible games, the 27-year-old defenseman realized he needed to make some adjustments in order to minimize the damage. Making those changes could be the difference between staying healthy and in the lineup, or continuing on this rollercoaster ride of injuries.
“I’ve been trying to get hit less and trying to make different plays, rather than always try to make the big play. Get rid of the puck quicker than I usually do,” Green said prior to his return to the lineup. “I used to drag guys into me and then make the play to one of our guys but I’d end up getting crushed so I needed to change that.”