A healthy relationship between any coach and their superstar is paramount for a team’s on-ice success, but according to former Trotz player and current NBC hockey analyst Keith Jones, new Capitals Coach Barry Trotz might want to make reviving former Norris Trophy finalist Mike Green a priority.
I know [Alex] Ovechkin will get most of the fingers pointed his way, but to me if Barry Trotz can find a way to get more out of [defenseman] Mike Green on the back end, which I’m not sure Mike Green has more left, that’s the challenge to me. That would be a game-changer for the Capitals. That would alleviate a lot of the pressure on a new head coach.
Green was healthy in 2013-14 and played 70 games for the first time since the 2009-10 season, when he finished second in the Norris voting to Chicago’s Duncan Keith. Ignoring special teams and lead-protecting situations, Green helped Washington outshoot opponents 400 to 385 and was one of the more productive blue liners the Caps put on the ice last season.
By all accounts it was an improvement in performance for Green, who was on the ice for more shot attempts as a percentage of the total than he has been since that 2009-10 campaign.
The biggest improvement? Hopping over the boards on a line change against the opposition’s best forwards.
When Green was sent on the ice without the benefit of a faceoff, the Capitals saw 61.3 percent of the even-strength shot attempts in their favor when the opposition had at least one top-six forward (a forward who averages over 14 minutes per game and 1.8 points per 60 minutes at even strength) on the ice. His previous high was 58.5 percent in his injury-plagued 2010-11 season.
So why are fans and pundits alike looking at this season as a continuation of his downturn? Jack Hillen.
Oates sent out the defensive pair of Hillen-Green for 38 “open play” shifts (no faceoffs) and they managed to break even against lines they faced with at least one top-six forward. However, in the 31 shifts where they lined up for a defensive zone draw against a line with at least one top-six forward they were out attempted 12 to 1 (8.3 percent of the attempts). Small sample size caveats apply, but anytime the opposition’s best is outshooting you 12 to 1 on the ice in their own zone bad things will happen.
So what’s the answer? Less Hillen, more Dmitry Orlov.
Orlov and Green shared 37 shifts where they took a faceoff in the defensive zone against a line with at least one top-six forward and held their own, putting 46.7 percent of the even-strength shot attempts in their favor. When they were matched up in the offensive zone against a line with at least one top-six forward they were not on the ice for a single even-strength shot attempt against (10 for, zero against). Hillen and Green managed just over a third of their team’s shot attempts (37.5 percent) in those same circumstances.
Alex Ovechkin is the key to the offense, but Keith Jones is right: if Trotz can find Green a steady defensive partner and use him in the right situations we could be looking at a return to glory in America’s hockey capital.