On March 20, Mike Green sat in the visitors’ dressing room at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh after the Washington Capitals’ practice, insisting he was ready to play. He said he was ready to return from his latest malady — a nagging groin injury — stay in the lineup, and hopefully rediscover the form that made him one of the best offensive defensemen in the league earlier in his career.
“I feel like it’s hard to be productive when you’re in and out of the lineup and suffering injuries,” Green said then. “If I could just get a consistent game basis going here and really get back to the good feeling and the mojo that I feel I had, it’d be great. That’d be awesome.”
Establishing a rhythm has been something of a pipe dream for Green in recent seasons as injury followed injury and he missed 93 of 201 regular season games dating back to the start of the 2010-11 season. But since those comments after practice in Pittsburgh, Green has played in eight straight games, and there have been plenty of signs that the 27-year-old Calgary native is finding his mojo again.
Heading into Saturday’s game at the Florida Panthers, Green has scored five goals in the past four games. When that streak began in Buffalo the signs of a confident, resurgent top defenseman were undeniable.
Green wanted the puck in key situations, during critical offensive possessions, and called for it. Serving as the prime distributor on the point, he didn’t hesitate to shoot, whether trying to put the puck on net himself or aiming for a deflection or tip by one of his teammates.
After clanking a shot off the left post, Green told his teammates on the bench that he believed he could find a way to squeeze a shot past Sabres goaltender Jhonas Enroth blocker side. That’s precisely what he did with 32.9 seconds left in regulation that night to force overtime and help the Capitals capture a 4-3 win.
The next day in Philadelphia, Brooks Laich found Green in full flight coming out of the penalty box. On a breakaway a full stride ahead of anyone in an orange jersey, his shot was as perfectly placed — high blocker side — as it ever could be.
“You can tell he’s looking confident with the puck,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “He’s doing a great job, we all know he’s capable of even more — that’s how good of a player he is — and he’s peaking at the right time for us.”
He scored twice in a 5-3 thumping of the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday. Thursday against the Islanders, he jumped off the bench to join the play late in the first period when Marcus Johansson poked a bouncing puck in his direction. Green scooped it up, fired a wrister as he was slashed that beat Evgeni Nabokov, and celebrated with a few emphatic fist pumps along the end boards.
In each game during this streak, Green seems to grow a little more comfortable. His skating seems a little more effortless, his confidence is a little more overt in his decision making as his willingness to shoot, make a savvy pass or jump up into the play is bold without leaving his teammates vulnerable. Not to mention he’s done all of this while skating no fewer than 23 minutes in the past four games.
“I love the way he’s moving up on the play. He’s not — he’s not trying to do too much with it,” Coach Adam Oates said. “Obviously, the poise on the blue line’s huge. The puck possession’s huge, and [he’s] playing very well.”
Green’s resurgence comes as the Capitals are finding their footing. For Washington, having its most potent offensive threat from the blue line re-establish his timing is critical.
“Always has been, Mike’s been a game-breaker for us. He can change the game from the back end,” Laich said. “He’s got tremendous ability, the skating ability to get up and back on the ice . . . . He’s been a huge, huge addition for us.”
Capitals note: Washington signed 2009 fourth-round draft pick defenseman Patrick Wey, who just completed his senior year at Boston College, to a two-year, entry level contract that begins in 2013-14.