Mike Green takes plenty of heat in the hockey community no matter what he does to prove himself as a responsible two-way defenseman in the NHL. And quite frankly, it’s high time the critics scale back the assault on all things Green related.
The 25-year old Canadian took the league by storm in the 2007-08 season by posting 18 goals and 38 assists. The following year he racked up a whopping 31 goals and 38 assists. Staggering stats to be sure especially for a defenseman, and almost overnight Green’s presence on the point and his ability to improvise in the offensive zone put him on the map as a rising star in the NHL.
However, the limelight has not only brought fame, but also a tidal wave of scrutiny, which has changed the perception surrounding Green as a player.
Some of it is warranted. Green’s performance in three playoff appearances has yielded four goals and 15 assists in 28 games, leaving the Capitals punchless from the blueline. When the dust settled after each postseason failure, he was forced to shoulder much of the blame for defeat.
While success beyond the regular season has eluded Green and the Caps as a whole, his regular season heroics on offense were never in question. Instead, he was attacked for his struggles in the defensive zone. He was chosen as a Norris Trophy finalist twice, but has never won the award largely due to lack of dedication in his own end.
Green is at his best when he joins the rush and pushes the tempo by carrying the puck into the offensive zone himself. He thrives on speed and finesse and it’s a style served him well for the most part. But there was a reason the Canadian Olympic team snubbed him last year and it’s likely because he didn’t fully embrace two-way hockey.
No longer though as Green has emerged as a solid defender in 2010-11 even if at the expense of his offensive output. From what I’ve seen, read, and heard, Mike Green has developed into a reliable, tough presence in the defensive zone. He plays a ton of minutes (fifth in the NHL at 25:44 per game), takes an absolute pounding along the boards, and has become a more a leader on the ice and in the locker room.
His offensive numbers are indeed down this year. But the entire Capitals team has struggled to score since November and yet Green is tied for 11th in goals among defensemen despite missing eight games.
Green missed one of those eight games last night as the Caps lost 2-0 in a lifeless effort against the Sharks. It was apparent the team missed his puck-moving abilities and Bruce Boudreau indicated that the team isn’t the same without him in the lineup.
“When Mike’s not in the lineup you lose a guy that can really move the puck,” he said after the loss. “I think our defense played fairly well, but I mean you don’t have that offensive guy that gets the puck, moves it and jumps into the play.”
I hear people complaining all the time about how the Caps would be better off without Green and his occasionally erratic play, but let’s be honest. Tuesday night’s game was an indicator of just how vital he is to this team’s success. The break outs were stale, the team spent much of the last 30 minutes bogged down in their own zone, and scoring chances were at a minimum. With Green in the lineup, the Capitals are far from perfect, but his presence causes matchup problems and forces opposing teams to adjust their schemes to deal with his versatility.
Looking at the eight games he has missed, Washington has gone 3-5 with 16 goals for and 23 goals against. The losses include the 7-0 debacle in New York and two offensively challenged performances against San Jose and Colorado. On the flip side, the Caps did crush Tampa Bay 6-0 without him.
Examining things a little more closely, the Capitals averaged 2.00 goals per game without Green and 2.85 per contest in the 47 games with him. That’s straightforward enough. We know he’s hugely important on offense as Boudreau mentioned above. Here’s the kicker though. Without him, the team gives up 2.88 goals per game. When he plays, they surrender 2.40 per game. Washington has a goal differential of +14 this season, but they are -7 when #52 doesn’t skate.
You can poke holes into those numbers all you want, but Green’s impact is felt both offensively and defensively this season. I believe he’s playing a more balanced game and without him, the Capitals aren’t nearly as talented on either end.
Green was selected by the NHL to his first All-Star game this year in recognition of his season yet some are disappointed in the scoring drop off. Obviously, a player of his caliber will never escape questions concerning his weaknesses and he remains a work in progress, but there’s little doubt concerning his maturation as a player. He remains an offensive threat despite the dip in his numbers and defensively he’s taken his game to another level.
Green has gone out of his way to play a style of hockey he isn’t accustomed to playing and has done a pretty damn good job of adapting. The team relies on him in almost every facet of the game, and whenever he’s missing it shows on both ends of the ice. Of course some nights he has mental lapses, but in light of the criticism heaped on him, we tend to forget about his improvement each year as a two-way defenseman.