Monday, April 28, 2014

Washington Capitals: 2013-2014 By the Tens -- Defensemen: Mike Green

“I must be taken as I have been made. The success is not mine, the failure is not mine, but the two together make me.”

― Charles Dickens, “Great Expectations”

As much as any player of the Washington Capitals hockey club, Mike Green has seen it all.  He was drafted in that same 2004 draft that brought Alex Ovechkin to Washington.  He was there for large parts of two difficult, if necessary seasons, coming out of the 2004-2005 lockout when the Caps tried hard but lost far more than they won as the Young Guns – Green among them – were learning their craft.  He was there for the improbable 11-1-0 finish in 2008 that carried the Caps to the post-season for the first time since 2003.  He was there for the Presidents Trophy year, and he was there for the playoff embarrassment that followed. 

Green was there for the long, slow slide thereafter that led to the Caps failing to make the playoffs in 2014 for the first time since 2007.  At the top of his game he was the best offensive defenseman in the game, a record-setter in fact.  After injuries and time, he is now a second pair defenseman with a first pair defenseman’s contract.  He is the only Capital defenseman since that 2004-2005 lockout to appear in at least 400 games regular season games, the only one to appear in 500 regular season games (503).  He was the third oldest defenseman to dress for the Capitals in 2013-2014.

In 2013-2014 Mike Green appeared in 70 regular season games, more than he appeared in over the previous two seasons combined (67 of a possible 130 games).  That 70 games mark is a significant number, the first time Green appeared in at least 70 games in a season since he dressed for 75 games in 2009-2010.  In nine seasons in the NHL, Green has dressed for more than 70 games only twice, that 2009-2010 season and in 2007-2008, when he appeared in all 82 games.

Green’s role changed in 2013-2014, nowhere more so than as the power play quarterback.  In the Capitals playoff era, here is Green’s average ice time on the man advantage, his rank on the club, and his average ice time margin over the next ranked player relative to first place:

Note that the 2011-2012 season in which Green finished second in average power play ice time was one in which: a) Green was limited to 32 games because of injury, and b) the Caps had a suitable replacement in Dennis Wideman who played his only full season in Washington in 2011-2012.  That leaves 2013-2014.  For 49 games Green sailed along as the team leader in average power play ice time, averaging a little over three minutes a game, culminating with a whopping 8:15 in man advantage ice time on January 25th in a 5-0 win over Montreal.

Then things changed, and in an odd sort of way. In his next game Green scored a pair of goals, including the overtime winner, and was the game’s first star in a 5-4 win over Buffalo.  Green once more led the team in power play ice time (2:23), but it would be a while before he would lead the team in power play ice time again.  Mike Green would play only 5:48 in his next game, a 5-2 loss in Columbus in which Green was checked into the glass by the Blue Jackets’ Boone Jenner.  Green suffered a concussion from the hit and did not return to the lineup until after the break for the Sochi Olympic Games.

By that time John Carlson had taken over the reins as the Caps’ power play option from the point.  After the Olympics Carlson and Green played in 19 games together, and in 13 of them Carlson recorded more power play time (in one other game the Caps were not awarded a power play).  That 8:15 of power play ice time was Green’s high water mark for the season.  At that time he averaged 3:05 per game of power play ice time to Carlson’s 2:44.  After than game Green averaged 1:54 of power play ice time per game, Carlson 3:47.

Fearless’ Take… I’ll beat Cheerless to the fancystat punch here.  Of 142 defensemen playing in atleast three-quarters of their games this season, Mike Green was 47th in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 and 41st in 5-on-5 close score situations (52.4).  Not bad for a guy who some fans think is a turnover machine.  And even though he missed a dozen games this season Green remained a top-30 defenseman in goals, assists, points, power play points, and game-winning goals.

Cheerless’ Take… Mike Green was also a top-30 defenseman in giveaways. The Caps also happened to be 8-2-2 in games that Green missed, 30-28-12 in games he played.  In 19 games after the Olympic break, when the Caps were struggling to make a playoff spot, Green finished 2-6-8 and just 1-2-3 in his last 15 games.  The Caps were 6-6-3 in those 15 games.

Odd Green Fact… In only eight of 19 games after the Olympic break did Mike Green finish with a Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 above 50 percent.

Game to Remember… January 28th versus Buffalo.  Mike Green earned the nickname “Game Over Green” for his propensity for scoring game-winning goals, often in overtime.  Coming into the 2013-2014 season Green had 16 career game-winning goals, seven of them coming in overtime.  In 2013-2014, however, Green had yet to record a game-winner.  That would change on January 28th.  Green had already recorded a goal in the game against the Sabres in Buffalo, a nifty wrap-around goal that gave the Caps a 3-2 lead in the second period. 

The Caps could not hold the lead, though, and the game went to extra time.  In the first minute of overtime Martin Erat led a rush up ice.  After crossing the Sabres line Eraqt dropped the puck for Alex Ovechkin a tht etop of the left wing circle.  Ovechkin stepped up, giving every indication he was going to take the shot himself.  When the Sabres’ defense slid to his side of the ice, and goalie Jhonas Enroth stepped out to defend the shot, Ovechkin laid the puck off to the weak side where Green was filling in.  Green took the pass and wristed it past the diving Enroth for the game-winner, his eighth overtime career game-winning goal in the Caps’ 5-4 win.

Game to Forget… April 1st versus Dallas.  In a game the Capitals had to have in their late-season rush to make the playoffs, the Caps came up short. Way short.  And Mike Green got an all too close-up view of it.  Green was on ice for three of the five Dallas Stars goals in a 5-0 loss at Verizon Center.  With the Stars holding a 1-0 lead in the second period, the Stars found themselves on a two-on-none break against goalie Jaroslav Halak after a slow Caps line change.  Green was the defenseman back at the end of what would be a 1:27 shift.  His legs weary, Green did not get back quickly on the play, allowing Ray Whitney to deke Halak to the ice, tap the puck out to the top of the crease, and sweep it into the net while Green was struggling to get back into the play. 

In the third period with the Stars up 3-0, Green was caught at the end of another long shift (1:31) left spinning at the top of the crease as Whitney found Dustin Jeffrey coming late on a play to beat Halak to make it 4-0.  There was one more goal left in the Stars’ bag, and Green was on ice for that one, too, at the end of yet another long shift (1:27).  This one came with the Caps on a power play.  Vernon Fiddler ripped the puck around the end wall and up the left wing boards, springing Ryan Garbutt for a break.  Garbutt skated past a gassed Green and in alone on Halak for the period at the end of the sentence for the Caps in a game that was one more blown chance to crawl into the top eight for a playoff berth.

In the end…

Only ten defensemen in the league have higher salary cap hits than Mike Green.  Three or four years ago, when Green was the top offensive defenseman in the league, such a position might have been justified.  But Green is now a second-pair defenseman with a first-pair contract.  And despite his having played in 70 games this past season, one would not call him restored to vitality as far as his durability is concerned. 

Green will be entering the last year of his current contract in 2014-2015.  His 2013-2014 performance was just tantalizing enough to think that maybe he can justify another extension with the Caps.  On the other hand, one might also think of it as tantalizing enough to other clubs to enable the Caps get find some salary cap relief as the Young Guns era moves toward its inevitable conclusion, and the Caps try to remake themselves into a contender once more.

Grade: B-

Photo: Elsa/Getty Images North America

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