"The light just went off in my head that I need to play this way. Now, I think defense first." - Mike Green
Since breaking into the League, Mike Green has had to work to shake off the reputation of being a defenseman in name only, someone explosive with the puck but inept in his own end. It was a reputation that likely kept him off the Canadian Olympic team this past February and one that challenged his first Norris Trophy nomination. And while the knock against Green's defensive game was often overblown, and exacerbated by an injury-filled postseason performance last year, there were times when mental lapses and an apparent lack of awareness did seem to cost him - and the Caps.
This season has marked a turning point in his game, though. Still a puck-moving defenseman, Green has demonstrated a renewed interest and ongoing evolution in his defensive work, and over the last month has very quietly become one of the most reliable defensemen for Washington.
The talk is starting to shift from murmurs of Green as a defensive liability to discussion of him as a legitimate Norris contender for the second straight year. A closer look at the ever-improving Mike Green:
- In 15 games since the Olympic Break, Green has been a minus exactly three times.
- He regularly skates between 25 and 30 minutes, including time on both the power play and the penalty kill. In fact, he averages around five minutes a game in power play time, which is second in the league - an average of one second per game behind Mark Streit, in fact.
- As JP pointed out last week, Duncan Keith (whose name is frequently thrown around as a Norris contender this year) has been on the ice for 11% fewer goals FOR at 5-on-5 (90 to 80) than Green. He's also been on the ice for 46% more goals AGAINST (50 to 73) than Green. All while Green sees 21% less ice time 5-on-5.
- Green is the leader among defensemen in numerous categories: goals, assists, points, power play goals and power play assists, and is tied for second in game-winning goals. He's also second in the League in +/-, behind only teammate (and frequent defensive partner) Schultz. It may sometimes be a skewed stat, but with as much ice time as he gets - and as much of it comes on special teams, where +/- is void - it's not just a coincidence that his numbers are that high.
- He registers in the League top ten in time on ice per game - he may not have the highest rating when it comes to quality of competition, but if he's playing between 25 and 30 minutes a night you know he's facing the other team's best at least some of the time.
- His 130 hits are the third-highest total on the Capitals, as are his 104 blocked shots. Last year he had committed 95 giveaways in 68 games; this year that number is down to 73, in 5 more games played. Same with penalties - last year he could be counted on for a minor every other game (68 PIMs in 68 games), but this year he's knocked that down to 54 PIMs.
The best part of Green's play of late is that he's simply becoming more of an asset physically - and more aware mentally - to really help his team. Goals are nice, but he is first and foremost a defenseman and is really approaching the game as one.
He's become better at picking his spots to join the rush, which accounts for both a lower goal total and a lower turnover rate while also accounting for a happier coach. He's taking chances as they come instead of forcing them, with fewer bad turnovers and instances of getting caught down low in the opposition's zone. Lately he's seemed to be more aware of incoming forwards, which has made him better at avoiding punishing hits and handling them better when they come - thus preventing him from, again, being caught out of position.
On the surface, these things combined could lead to increased Norris Trophy chatter over the next week or so. But more importantly, they speak to Green's continued evolution as a blueliner and a renewed dedication to defense that he'll need when the playoffs roll around.
And frankly that's what matters most of all.