On the heels of a significant win, the Washington Capitals learned they will head into a weekend of back-to-back games without one of their top defensemen. The NHL handed Mike Green a three-game suspension Friday for his hit to the head on Tampa Bay’s Brett Connolly.
This is the second suspension of Green’s career and will cause him to miss Saturday’s game at the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, Sunday’s game against Toronto and another road game against the New York Islanders. The defenseman will forfeit $85,135.14 in salary.
The good news is that because Green missed 47 games earlier this season with various injuries, playing without the two-time Norris Trophy finalist is nothing new for the Capitals. “The team’s used to it,” Coach Dale Hunter said Friday.
The hit occurred midway through the second period of Washington’s 3-2 overtime win over the Lightning on Thursday. With the game tied at 1, rookie defenseman Dmitry Orlov checked Connolly into the boards behind the Capitals’ net, pinning the winger in place and causing him to lose control of the puck. It was at this point that Green skated in from above the goal line and delivered an elbow to Connolly’s head.
Green did not receive a penalty on the play, which caused Connolly to crumple to the ice. The Lightning rookie eventually skated to the bench on his own and went on to play another 3 minutes 44 seconds in the contest.
Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s vice president of player safety, announced the suspension in a video explanation posted on the league’s Web site.
“Green raises and drives his left arm into Connolly’s head with significant force, making the head the principal point of contact and causing it to impact the glass,” said Shanahan, who went on to explain that Connolly’s positioning didn’t change prior to the hit. Rather, the Capitals defenseman took advantage of a vulnerable player.
“Green sees Connolly in this position, he then slows down, waits, loads up and targets Connolly’s head, making it the principal point of contact,” Shanahan said.
Green has not been made available for comment since the hit occurred, and Hunter declined to discuss the play following Friday’s practice. While the Capitals have not commented on the hit, Tampa Bay Coach Guy Boucher offered his thoughts on the play after Thursday’s game.
“To me, it could have been” a five-minute major penalty, Boucher said. “It’s a head target. It’s clear.”
Shanahan said he weighed Green’s prior disciplinary history — a three-game ban in January 2010 for elbowing then-Florida forward Michael Frolik — as well as the fact that Connolly was not injured by the hit when determining the length of this punishment.
This latest setback comes at a time when the Capitals’ quest to reach the playoffs is nearing its zenith.
With 15 games left in the regular season, Washington holds a tenuous grasp on eighth place in the Eastern Conference with 72 points. The Capitals are three points behind Southeast Division-leading Florida and are tied with Winnipeg but hold two games in hand over the ninth-place Jets, who lost to Calgary on Friday.
Losing Green during this critical stretch, which includes six of the next seven games on the road, is simply the latest in a series of hurdles for the Capitals this year.
“We’ve been through so much this season,” forward Troy Brouwer said, citing injuries to Green and top center Nicklas Backstrom, as well as “a couple guys being hurt here and there. It’s just another thing that we will . . . have to deal with, so just take it in stride.”
Hunter declined to share whether he would insert defensemen Roman Hamrlik or John Erskine back into the lineup while Green is serving his suspension. Hamrlik has been a healthy scratch for eight straight games, while Erskine has sat out in 17 of the past 18.
While Green has not recorded a point in the 10 games he has played since returning from sports hernia surgery, his ice time rose rapidly and he quickly returned to his place as one of the ever-present figures on the blue line. He has skated more than 23 minutes in three consecutive games and seen at least 20 minutes in eight of the 10 contests. That time on the ice isn’t easy to make up.
“It goes back to how we had to battle through most of the season without him,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “It’s not easy and guys have to play a lot more minutes than they would if he’s in the lineup. It makes things a lot tougher on the rest of us. . . . Just got to forget about it. We’ve got a lot of good players in the room and guys who are willing to step up and play big.”