The Post Sports Live crew discusses whether rookie Andre Burakovsky or a different newcomer to the Capitals are having a bigger influence on the team's strong start to the season. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)

Before the Washington Capitals hired Barry Trotz as coach this May, the outside noise surrounding defenseman Mike Green had reached him in Nashville. A disappointing 2013-14 season created questions that blared like sirens across the league: Should Washington trade its highest-paid defenseman, with one year left on his contract? How about exercising a compliance buyout? Would he even be around long enough — or play well enough — to negotiate an extension?

“You shouldn’t assume things,” Trotz said after practice Friday morning. “What you hear and what you think you hear are two different things.”

During Washington’s recent trip to western Canada, Green quietly continued his scorching start. His seven even-strength points lead all NHL defensemen even though he missed the season opener. His even-strength shot differential — a measure of how many shots Green and his teammates take when he is on the ice compared with how many they give up — ranks sixth. He regained the confidence and form some worried had been lost.

“That’s the way it works, man,” Green said. “It was different when you’re younger. You want to be in the light a bit. Now, if I can hang out in the weeds and play good hockey, that’s fantastic.”

His playing career long since finished, Capitals assistant Todd Reirden had always enjoyed rejuvenating the defensemen he coached, and here in Washington, Reirden found his latest project. Reirden and Green spoke often over the summer and learned their goals matched. Lugging the system he taught in Pittsburgh, Reirden aimed to liberate Green, a natural puck-moving defenseman. Last season, conservative principles caged Green inside the defensive zone. Now, if Green sees a scoring opportunity, the Capitals hope he grabs it.

The Washington Capitals and the Verizon Center are building the ice surface for hockey season. Here's a timelapse of the process. (Courtesy of Monumental Network)

Freedom in the offensive zone, Trotz said, also helped Green improve on the opposite end, having entrusted his game to the new regime. Trotz praised Green’s newfound commitment to gap control and stick angles, two necessary elements of defending the puck. He requested Green add protective padding to his skates by tucking in the tongues. Green agreed so he could block more shots.

“It’s a credit to him,” Reirden said. “He looks different to me from training camp to now. Hopefully we’re just touching the surface . . . It couldn’t be any more true, the statement, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover,’ especially as a coach.”

The offseason signings of Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen also nudged Green further down the depth chart, onto the third defensive pairing beside Nate Schmidt (“the weeds”). Through eight games, Green’s average ice time dropped by more than two minutes from last season, but his competition also weakened and offensive zone starts increased. The Capitals handed shutdown assignments elsewhere because they wanted more from Green.

“It’s amazing how that works,” Schmidt said. “Sometimes there’s not a right fit. Maybe last year wasn’t the right fit for him within our system. Whatever the case may be, I think he’s back to where he wants to be, playing the way he wants to play, the way he knows he’s capable of going. It just makes a big difference.”

Green understood the criticism levied onto an underwhelming ninth NHL season, even though his 38 points led Capitals defensemen and his even-strength shot differential percentage topped the roster. But he felt a career built on offense still had plenty left inside the tank.

Next summer, Green will become an unrestricted free agent, a three-year deal annually worth $6,083,333 tapped out, and Washington General Manager Brian MacLellan insisted on waiting before opening negotiations.

“I’ve been in the league for 10 years,” Green said. “I’m used to it. Comes with the territory. The bar’s set high. You got to make sure you play there each night. If you don’t, you’re going to get scrutinized.”

The Post Sports Live crew evaluates the Capitals' performance under new head coach Barry Trotz. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)

So far, the returns haven’t allowed much room for condemnation. Green scored goals in Washington’s first two games and registered points in five of eight. He and Schmidt have formed a reliable third pair and pressured the lower lines against which Trotz deploys them.

“He’s just being Greenie, getting back to where he was,” Schmidt said. “He’s feeling it right now. When a guy’s feeling it, there’s nothing better.”