By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 31, 2010; D01
When the Washington Capitals attempt to match the longest winning streak in franchise history Sunday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Lightning, they'll have to do it without one of their best players.
Mike Green, the NHL's leading scorer among defensemen, was suspended Saturday for three games, without pay, by the league for his elbow to the head of Florida Panthers forward Michael Frolik in the first period of Friday night's 4-1 victory at Verizon Center.
Although Green does not have a history of controversial hits and had never been disciplined, NHL vice president of hockey operations Mike Murphy delivered a strong message at a time when the league is exploring ways to cut down on the increasing number of blows to the heads.
Murphy made the ruling because Colin Campbell, the league's disciplinarian, recuses himself from decisions involving the Panthers because his son, Gregory, plays for the team.
The suspension elicited mixed reactions in the Capitals' dressing room at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington.
Green, who suffered a bruise near his right knee later in the second period and might have been sidelined anyway, said he does not believe the elbow deserved a penalty.
"I've thrown that body check where you kind of come across. I didn't come across too aggressive," Green said. "I'll let [Coach Bruce Boudreau] talk about the rest."
Boudreau, who has an especially close relationship with Green dating to their time together in the minor leagues, did not agree with the league's ban of his star player. Green, who has more goals (12) and assists (40) than any other defenseman, was assessed a two-minute minor penalty for the elbow. Frolik, meantime, was shaken up by the blow but remained in the game.
"I don't know how to react anymore," Boudreau said. "Obviously I'm very upset about it. But what can you do? It's like fighting a ticket [when] you know you're not doing something wrong from the police. You can't argue with them. I better not say nothing. I'm just livid about the whole thing anyway."
Pressed for further comment, Boudreau added: "I'm using 'livid' right now, and I'm not going any further with it. Don't try to put something in my mouth where I end up saying something stupid. So let's talk about something else, okay."
When Boudreau was told that Green referred all questions to him, the coach chuckled and cracked, "Is he going to lend me the money?" The league can fine coaches for criticizing officials and disciplinary rulings.
Forward Brooks Laich, the team's NHL Players' Association representative, said the league needs to protect players from head shots.
"Obviously, we don't want to lose Greenie," Laich said. "I don't know if he was going to play anyway after that knee-on-knee collision. But at some point you have to take control of the game and protect the players. You see what happened in junior hockey. At some point you have to make a statement where there's not a gray area. You can't hit to the head. It's black or white. You hit to the head, you're going to get suspended."
The junior incident Laich was referencing occurred earlier this month in a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League game. Patrice Cormier of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies was suspended for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs for an elbow to the head of Mikael Tam that left the Quebec Remparts defenseman convulsing on the ice.
"I didn't see the replay," veteran Mike Knuble said of Green's elbow. "I was on the ice. But out of the corner of my eye it looked like an elbow. The guy wasn't hurt, right? He finished the game. He got him in the head. [The league] is trying to send a message, especially in the wake of that Quebec league thing. It's protecting the players. I'm sorry it happened to Mike. But guys know, an elbow to someone's head is going to cost you one way or another."
The incident occurred about four minutes into Friday's game. After being knocked to the ice earlier in the shift by Cory Stillman, Green returned to the play and delivered the elbow to Frolik at the other end, snapping the forward's head back and dropping him to the ice.
Green said the Stillman hit had nothing to do with his hit on Frolik.
"That was not at all the case," he said. "I got just body-checked clean."
In addition to missing Sunday's Southeast Division showdown at Verizon Center, where the Capitals will attempt to win their 10th straight game, Green also will sit out Tuesday's game in Boston and Thursday's matchup with the Rangers in New York. He will forfeit $81,606.21 in salary and will be eligible to return Friday against Atlanta.
With Green out, Boudreau said he'll turn to seldom-used defenseman Tyler Sloan for Sunday's game against the Lightning.
Green might not have been able to play Sunday anyway. Late in the second period, he was crushed in open ice by Dmitry Kulikov, whose knee collided with Green's. Green did not return to the game but skated lightly Saturday morning.
I've got "lots of bumps and bruises anyway," he said. "Just take care of my body here and make sure I'm ready for when I come back."
He did, however, concede that it's especially tough to miss time when his teammates are attempting to set a franchise milestone. The only time the Capitals have won 10 straight games was 1983-84 -- before many of the team's stars were born.
"I never want to sit out, period," Green said. "You want to play. It's unfortunate right now. We're on a good roll and I'm not being a part of it. But I'll have faith that the guys will get 'er done."