Mike Green looks on during Caps practice Tuesday at Kettler. (Photo credit: Margaret McGuire)
As the Washington Capitals continue to struggle under new coach Dale Hunter, Mike Green has become a beacon of hope for a Caps turnaround. For good reason. As you probably already know, the Capitals are 8-0 — un-frickin’-defeated — when Green has suited up this season.
On February 6, Green took a puck to the face in a game against the Penguins. 19 days later, in his first game back, the Rangers’ Derek Stepan elbowed Green in the head. This season, after notching four points against Detroit (tying his career high), Green missed the next six games due to a twisted ankle. In his first game back (detecting a pattern?), Green suffered his latest injury, a strained groin after taking a rough run from the Devils’ Ryan Carter. Since then, Green has missed 20 games and has not practiced with the team. Until now.
Tuesday, Green made his first steps towards a(nother) comeback, taking the ice for a full Caps-practice for the first time since November 11th.
While the 6’2”, 208-pound Calgary native may not be a Scott Stevens-style shutdown defenseman, his puck-moving skills, game-changing offense, and ability to eat up minutes is sorely missed on a back line consisting of inexperienced young players and overworked veterans. Dennis Wideman has been averaging 25:20 minutes of ice time with Hunter behind the bench. Wideman has had brilliant games this season — the almost-hat trick game against Toronto springs to mind — and then he’s had his stinkers — like the entire month of November, where he was a team worst minus-13 (probably the worst stretch of his NHL career).
After enduring several frustrating setbacks over the last month and a half, the Washington Post’s Katie Carrera reported that Green flew to Minnesota two weeks ago to receive an experimental Accelerated Recovery Performance (ARP) treatment, which involved electrical stimulation to his injured groin. The treatment must have helped, because Green skated hard with his teammates for nearly an hour or so today and also took his turns at the point on the power play.
What’s yet to be seen is what type of player Mike will be when he finally returns to game action. After missing 53 of the Capitals last 63 games due to injury, will Green still be the same elite defenseman who’s been nominated twice for a Norris trophy? Or will the former young gun be more of a complementary piece of the puzzle as he enters restricted free agency this summer? Green spoke candidly for several minutes to the local media Tuesday after practice. And while seeing him fully participate was encouraging, some of his answers (“I don’t think I’ll be 100 percent for a long time” and “I think I’m going to have to be cognizant of this [injury] for the rest of my career”) were a bit disconcerting.
How did practice go today?
It went good. Yeah. I was able to skate with the team and I’m making a lot of progress here. I’m still day-to-day. Nothing’s changed as far as the plan from before, but the good thing is I’m back on the ice and feeling good.
How does a long absence due to injury compare to training camp?
That’s the thing. I’ve been training hard off the ice — doing everything I can to stay in shape — but until you get back on the ice and are skating, it’s hard to train for hockey. But I feel as good as I possibly could feel going back on the ice today. I just need a few skates to get my lungs and my legs back and I’ll be back in no time. So we’ll see.
George McPhee said you plateaued a few weeks ago. Do you feel like you’re significantly getting better now?
Yeah. It’s just one of those things where time heals all. The degree of injury I had, this is the timeframe that you plan to come back. As much as I tried to get myself back quicker, it’s just a matter of time and you have to let it heal.
Mentally is your outlook better now that you re-joined your teammates.
Yes! I could not wait to get back on the ice and skate with the guys. It’s been tough watching hockey and not being a part of it. So for me to get back out there and be apart of this, I smiled a little bit. I think I had a smile on my face the entire time I was out there. It feels good. You don’t realize how much you miss it until you’re gone for awhile.
Are you still rehabbing?
I think I’m going to have to be cognizant of this for the rest of my career, probably. This is something that you’ve got to take care of – especially with hockey it’s such a common thing. It’s just maintenance right now. Making sure that I’m on top of my stuff and I’m getting better. I don’t think I’ll be 100 percent for a long time, but just got to get to that stage where I can play.
You haven’t played for Dale yet. What’s it been like watching his system from upstairs?
Yeah. It’s a great system, it’s just that we’ve got to buy in here. It’s taken some adjustment. We’re coming along. As players, we need to pick it up. We haven’t been that good lately. It comes down to the simple things and playing smart hockey. You have a system in place but you have to play hard and make sure you’re doing the right things. I’ve enjoyed being around Dale here. I recently was just able to talk to him. I’ve been out and haven’t seen him much. But he’s a great guy, a very easy coach to deal with. You know exactly what you’re going to get from him. He’s an honest coach.
Do you know when you’ll be able to return?
I don’t know. I wish I could give you an answer, but I don’t know.
Will you have to alter your stride or something with this injury?
Yeah, right now until I get back to as good as possible. I think it’s just more of a mind thing. Your body — the way it reacts — it doesn’t function the same way. This was my first skate with the team and I went as hard as I could. I think as I go on here, I’ll get that functioning back. It just takes time.