The Washington Capitals were out-scored and out-skated in Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Although one of the worst performances of the season by the Caps, six minutes and thirty nine seconds into the third period I was given a reason to smile. Capitals defender Mike Green had finally scored his first goal of the season. The last time Green hit the back of the net was on May 4th, 2013 to defeat the New York Rangers 1-0 in overtime of Game 2 in the conference quarterfinals. Since then, he’s played 29 games and taken 78 shots without a goal to show for it.
I was beginning to get frustrated with Green, as I’m sure most Caps fans were, as I fondly recalled his 2008-2009 campaign where he tallied thirty one goals and forty two assists. Over the past few weeks however, I realized that not only am I dissatisfied with the way he’s been playing, but Mike Green has also been angry with himself. After watching him shoot wide, hit the post and fan on several of his opportunities, I could see the frustration mounting in his face. He began to carry himself with less confidence and skate with anger as he tried harder and harder to get a goal.
This afternoon, head coach Adam Oates said in an interview with the Washington Post, ““The first thing I said to him was, ‘That’s not a slump. Goals will come,’” Oates said. “He got nine [goals] in April. For me, it’s his touches and his decisions”
To Green’s credit, he is tied for fourth most assists on the team (12), six more than the next defender (John Carlson). However, he’s had 29 turnovers and has often found himself chasing after another player into his zone that he allowed behind him with his sloppy play.
He went on to say,“If you’re pressing to get a goal you’re going to skate when you’re not supposed to skate and not wait for the right time. I thought his reads were a little off and I showed him a few situations. He does make a lot of good decisions, but he’s got to stop focusing on the goals. You’re going to end up with five, 10? I need the other stuff. It’s way more important.”
Oates hit on a key point which I think is what a lot of fans have seen from Green as of late. He hasn’t been the fluid skater and play making defender Caps fans are used to watching. He’s been sporadic and tried to do way too much with the puck as he struggles to find the back of the net. Telling him not to focus on goals is much like telling Caps fans not to think about a Stanley Cup championship, but as offensive defenseman, his job is to start break outs just as much as finish them.
Green’s goal tonight came off of a beautiful feed from Capitals right-winger and captain Alexander Ovechkin. He got the puck on his stick, calmly skated towards the net and let a beautiful wrister fly into the back of the net. On this particular play, Green kept his composure and his calm about him and made it look like second nature, exactly what Oates wanted. Even better is the fact that he scored only hours after Oates spoke with him; this guy really knows his stuff.
Wishful thinking: Now that Mike Green has scored his first of the season, one can only hope that he relaxes, returns to his superstar form and helps lead the Capitals to victory. Now that he finally broke through, my bet is he will.