How to stop Capitals defenseman Mike Green? Hit him, opponents say

The Washington Post's Tarik El-Bashir, LaVar Arrington and Dan Steinberg break down the Capitals' 5-game winning streak and preview the stretch run with Post Sports Live host Jonathan Forsythe.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 9, 2011; 12:30 AM

Between periods of a Capitals-Penguins game back in December, Pittsburgh Coach Dan Bylsma had a simple message for his players: "Keep hitting Green."

Bylsma's words, picked up by HBO cameras filming the "24/7" television series on the two teams, revealed what to many around the NHL has long been known as a primary strategy to counter Mike Green, Washington's free-wheeling defenseman.

Hit him early, and hit him often.

"We are physical with him and I think it's a respect thing," Penguins center Michael Rupp, who was charged with executing Bylsma's strategy during the Dec. 23 game, told reporters in Pittsburgh this week. "You have to realize what he's capable of doing. With the weapons they have, you don't want him to be at his best. You have to be physical with him."

That physicality has taken its toll.

Over the past 36 days, the Capitals have received a reminder of what things are like on the ice without their top defenseman, who has played less than 25 minutes since he was struck in the head by a puck on Feb. 6.

Since that initial injury, the two-time Norris Trophy finalist suffered a second blow to the head on Feb. 25, that time from an elbow delivered by New York Rangers rookie Derek Stepan. No one has alleged either play derived from malicious intent.

While the Capitals have not formally classified Green's injuries, it's believed he suffered concussions on both occasions.

"I'm not calling it anything," Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said Monday, when Green skated with the team at practice for the first time since the Rangers game. "It just wasn't right. You saw the play, he got hit in the head."

Boudreau emphasized that there is no rush to get him back into the lineup. "We want to make sure that Mike is absolutely symptom-free of everything so this doesn't happen again," he said. "So if we have to wait an extra long time we'll wait an extra long time. It's more about his future than it is about one game, two games or three games."

The trouble is, this is not the first prolonged absence from the lineup for the 25-year-old defenseman, who is listed at 6 feet 2 and 205 pounds.

This season alone, he has also missed time with a shoulder injury and a sprain to his medial collateral ligament. In 2008-09, Green was limited to 68 games in the regular season after suffering an injury to the AC joint in his shoulder from a check by Chris Pronger, then with Anaheim.

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