Playing games without Mike Green in the lineup has become something of a new normal for the Capitals, both 15 games into this season and for substantial amounts of time during the 2010-11 campaign.
Green suffered a strained right groin muscle on Friday, according to a league source, in what was the defenseman’s first game back after missing six straight contests with a right ankle injury. He won’t travel with the team at least for the beginning of this week’s three-game road trip.
While the Capitals certainly want the two-time Norris Trophy finalist in the lineup, they’ve learned how to adjust without him.
“You miss his speed most of all,” assistant coach Bob Woods said. “He can skate with anybody in the league, and when we play faster teams, quicker teams, [Green’s absence is] noticeable. He’s a guy that’s a threat, he puts other teams back on their heels because he can join the rush, make good plays coming out of the zone, he can shoot. Not having that there is an advantage for opponents.”
Dennis Wideman can help pick up a lot of the ice time that would be shouldered by Green. But while the 28-year-old Wideman is an offensive-minded, right-handed shot like Green and is able to chip in on the scoresheet, he reminded reporters not to get too carried away when asked if his game changes when the Calgary native isn’t in the lineup.
“Just because Mike Green’s not in the lineup doesn’t make me all of a sudden have hands,” Wideman quipped. “You’ve asked me that question before. If he’s not playing, I’m not all of a sudden Mike Green. I’ve still got to play the same way.”
While he may not be the same player, Wideman does become a workhorse for Washington in terms of ice time when Green is absent and particularly when the injuries continue to pile up. In back-to-back contests this weekend, he played 27 minutes 11 seconds on Friday night then 33:52 on Saturday.
There’s no question that when Green is in the lineup, though, the Capitals are a more complete team. It can be evidenced in multiple ways, but perhaps the simplest one is Washington’s record with Green this season: 7-0-0. Without him it is 2-4-1.
He fits so well into Coach Bruce Boudreau’s system and his presence in every on-ice situation is missed, which is part of the reason why Washington wants to see him try to protect himself a little bit better on the ice when he comes back.
For example, when Devils’ forward Ryan Carter checked Green awkwardly in the corner – the play that led to the strained right groin muscle – perhaps if he had moved the puck along the defenseman would have been able to avoid the brunt of the collision.
“I know he’s frustrated, he wants to be playing,” Woods said. “He’s got to learn to protect himself better. When you’re a high-quality defenseman, teams are keying on you. They’re going to make your life as miserable as they can. They’re going to finish every check on you and it’s your job to protect yourself. He’s got to do that better. I think he tries to make one more play where he should just move the puck.”