Over the past three seasons, the Washington Capitals have begrudgingly become adept at making up for the absence of one particular player.
Mike Green has missed 93 of Washington’s last 231 regular season games dating from the start of the 2010-11 season with a host of various injuries, and that number may increase again this week. The two-time Norris Trophy finalist sat out practice Wednesday with what the team will only describe as a “lower-body injury.” He is questionable for Friday’s game at the Detroit Red Wings, leaving the Capitals to prepare for him to be unavailable once more.
“We can adapt pretty good now, but it’s never good when he misses any time,” fellow defenseman Karl Alzner said. “We do know how to figure it out, to get by. There are guys that can step in, step up. We don’t want him out of the lineup . . . he’s too important.”
Green skated 23 minutes 3 seconds in the Capitals’ 4-3 overtime win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night at Verizon Center. The veteran defenseman absorbed three hits in the game, according to the official scoresheet, though that statistic is most often a judgment call and doesn’t include every occurrence of physical contact in a contest.
Among those hits was a heavy collision with Columbus winger Blake Comeau midway through the third period.
“I don’t think it was that hit, but he got bumped up during the game,” said Coach Adam Oates, who was uncertain when asked if Green would be able to face Detroit. “We’ll see. Obviously hope so. We’ll see, evaluate him [Thursday].”
Green’s nine-year career has been punctuated by myriad injuries, as he’s missed time with two concussions, as well as shoulder, knee, ankle, hip flexor and groin injuries. Back in January 2012, he underwent sports hernia surgery after a lingering groin strain resulted in an abdominal tear. In the first half of last year’s lockout-shortened campaign, Green missed 13 games when he had another groin problem.
While the Capitals are accustomed to coping with Green’s absence at this point, there’s no easy way for them to make up for his presence. Green, 28, leads the team in average ice time (24:18) and is second in power-play time per contest (4:29). He’s also second behind Alex Ovechkin in total shots (50) and shots on the power play (25).
Green has held a significant role in the top-four defensemen, quarterbacking the power play from the point and handling heavy workloads — he’s led the team in average ice time each season dating back to 2007-08. His importance to Washington has made him a frequent target for opponents, who rarely pass up an opportunity to deliver a big hit against him or punish him physically. Dating back to Bruce Boudreau’s time as coach, the Capitals have tried to find ways to better protect Green on the ice.
“One of the things that we’ve talked to him about is playing him too much. Maybe he’s a little fatigued and he doesn’t see a guy coming as fast as he should and it’s one of the things that we’re trying to monitor,” Oates said. “Spread the minutes out a little bit, so to not put that much pressure on him.”
Should Green, a right-handed shot, miss time, the Capitals will look to bolster depth by bringing up a player from the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears. Oates prefers skaters to play their strong side, so it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for Washington to bring up another right-hander in rookie Connor Carrick or veteran Tyson Strachan. If the Capitals choose to go against that trend, though, they could bring back prospect Dmitry Orlov, who was reassigned to Hershey so he could get in game action after sitting as a healthy scratch for seven contests with the Capitals. Orlov, who has yet to make his season debut, is a left-handed shot but has experience playing the right side.
Regardless of how the Capitals would choose to fill the void created by an absent Green, there’s no true way to regain the puck-handling ability and transition play that he brings to their game.
“He makes good decisions, he’s super fast, he can get back if the puck does get turned over. He’s played with Ovi so much on the [power play] now that he knows exactly what to look for,” Alzner said. “He’s a minute-eater for us. We can’t miss him for long.”