Before the Washington Capitals boarded their flight to Tampa Bay for a one-game road trip against the Lightning, Coach Barry Trotz made a plane-time decision on defenseman Mike Green. Green practiced Monday morning without a non-contact jersey and skated on the third blue-line pairing with Nate Schmidt, but as his upper-body injury continues to heal, the Capitals chose to leave him in D.C.
“I can give you an answer when I get to the plane,” Trotz had told reporters. “But he’s very close.”
The decision was made before. Even before speaking with trainer Greg Smith and Green, who has missed six straight games since suffering the injury Nov. 22 against Buffalo, Trotz said he would prefer Green work out in Washington if the defenseman didn’t feel ready. The Capitals’ flight was scheduled to leave around 1:30 p.m.
“If Mike feels that he’s probably not ready for tomorrow, I’m going to keep him back,” Trotz said. “If not, I’d rather him have a really good day of just conditioning and get some therapy and some strength work and that on the rehab, than make the trip and have a late-morning skate. We can skate him, but we don’t have quite the facilities there as what we do here.”
Green, for his part, was non-committal when speaking after practice. He expressed optimism over engaging in contact and seemed stronger in shooting on the ice, but also cautioned against rushing back too soon, something he has maintained since the injury occurred.
“Today was the first day I could actually shoot, really push it,” Green said. “It’s tough because we are playing every other night, and I want to make sure I come back and can defend where I’m strong and don’t have any setbacks.”
In early November, forward Brooks Laich hurried back from a shoulder injury to face the Blackhawks and ultimately helped the Capitals end a five-game winless streak, but re-injured himself in the process and wound up missing more time. Green said the prospect of facing the Atlantic Division-leading Lightning wouldn’t much factor into his decision.
“Every team is good in this league and Tampa Bay’s no exception right now they’re playing great hockey,” Green said. “But we have a game plan as a team. It’s not one or two guys that are going to make the biggest difference. It’s our team game that’s going to win us hockey games.”
When healthy, however, Green has been among Washington’s most productive offensive defenseman, registering 12 points in just 19 games while receiving third-pair ice time. In his stead, defenseman Jack Hillen has started six straight, but during Monday’s practice, Hillen skated beside Dmitry Orlov as the extra blue-liners.
“I’ve felt good,” Green said. “It was a minor setback, but when I come back, I’ll be ready to play the same way I was playing before. Hopefully step back in the same role.”
After Tampa Bay, the Capitals will return home to host Columbus on Thursday and the Lightning on Saturday.