Mike Green's return from shoulder injury coincides with Washington Capitals' winning streak

Mike Green's power-play goal early in overtime makes a winner of rookie goalie Braden Holtby, who was making his first NHL start.
By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 9, 2010; 12:00 AM

Over the past four games, defenseman Mike Green has been on the ice for six of the Washington Capitals' seven power-play goals. It's no coincidence either, his teammates say, that the two-time Norris Trophy nominee's return from a shoulder injury has coincided with the Capitals' four-game winning streak.

Green's presence trolling the blue line adds extra assurance on the bench that the Capitals' power play will make the most of its chances, as it did Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers when he scored the game-winning overtime goal - his fourth goal in as many contests.

"It's so important to have him back there; he's our key," Nicklas Backstrom said. "It's comfortable for me, for us, to have him back there on the power play and against teams' top players, too."

Entering Tuesday's game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, Green leads Washington in average ice time per game with more than 25 minutes each contest. That workload is nothing out of the ordinary for Green, who averaged team highs in ice time each of the past three years. His calmness while skating against opposing team's top offensive threats, however, is a newly acquired trait in his fifth NHL season.

Against Philadelphia, Green played more against Claude Giroux and Jeff Carter, two of the Flyers' top scorers, than any other opposing forwards. Neither managed to record a point and Carter took just one shot on net, the first time in 11 games that he has been held to one shot.

"In the past, I didn't like" facing prominent scorers, Green said. "Now, it feels good after the game to realize you've shut down a top line and made sure they didn't produce. It's not easy to play against those guys. . . . You have to be more aware at all times, but that's something that, as you mature as a defenseman, you learn to do."

It can take years of NHL experience for young defensemen to fully adapt to the nuances of the position, and for Green, the key has been finding a balance between potent offensive presence and defensive reliability, even against all-star foes.

"He's got a lot of confidence right now," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "When you have a lot of confidence, it doesn't matter who you're facing. But it's like a 'watching him grow up before my eyes' type of thing. . . . His outlook on the game has changed from the end of last year to the beginning of this year, and I hope he keeps it up."

After disappointing results in each of the past two postseasons - notably, no goals and six minor penalties against the Montreal Canadiens in April - Green turned his attention to that elusive-but-necessary balance in his game. Through 11 games, Green has a plus-7 rating and nine points, tied for 12th in the league among defensemen but perhaps not as high as one might expect from the player who led all blueliners with 76 points last season. What doesn't show up as prominently however, is when the players he's responsible for are ineffective in the Capitals' zone.

"I feel more structured and more stable out there" this season, Green said. "In the past, it has been a run-and-gun kind of game, and I came in really focused on the defensive part of my game. . . . I think you're a little naive as a young player, and as you mature, you understand the game and realize what it takes to succeed as a defenseman."

Capitals notes: Semyon Varlamov faced shots in practice for the first time since going back on injured reserve with a groin injury in late October. The goaltender missed the past seven contests and Boudreau said Varlamov will see time in "game situations" this weekend, but wouldn't clarify whether that would be in Washington, Hershey or somewhere else. . . . Brooks Laich (upper-body injury) did not practice Monday but is expected to make the trip to New York, as is Tom Poti (groin).

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