On Saturday, Mike Green started a new chapter in his career when he practiced with the Detroit Red Wings for the first time.
“(I spent) a long time in Washington,” Green told reporters. “But moving forward here, I'm extremely excited to be a part of this group, especially with the history, the leadership here, the recipe to win. Overall, just a great deal of excitement.”
The Caps have not started a season without Mike Green on their roster since 2005. For reference, Andre Burakovsky was 10 years old when Green played his first game in Washington.
But with the Caps unable to meet Green’s salary demands – the Red Wings will pay him $6 million in each of the next three seasons – the post-Mike Green era will begin with a pair of left-handed defensemen, Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt, penciled in as the club’s fifth and sixth defensemen.
(The Caps’ top two defense pairs will be evenly divided between righties John Carlson and Matt Niskanen and lefties Brooks Orpik and Karl Alzner).
As one of the league’s most fluid skaters and gifted passers, the Caps unquestionably will miss Green’s overall talent. But the person who will miss him most is Alex Ovechkin, whose on-ice relationship with Green was on par with the synergy he’s had with Nicklas Backstrom the past eight seasons.
No one on the planet could put pucks in Ovechkin’s wheelhouse the way Green did for 10 seasons, especially on the power play, where Green racked up 52 goals and 111 assists in his 575 games with the Caps, ranking him fifth in power-play goals and 15th in power-play points among all NHL defensemen in that span.
Green led all Caps in power-play ice time last season (2:45 a game) and with him gone, Carlson is likely to be given much of his power-play ice time, a trend that began last season, when he averaged 1:44.
Niskanen, who averaged 2:59 of power-play ice time in Pittsburgh in 2013-14 but just 1:03 with the Caps last season, is also expected to fill Green’s void, with Schmidt and Orlov also possibilities for spot duty. And that could mean a lot of practice time of Carlson and Niskanen trying to get Ovechkin pucks at the right pace and location.
“That’s something that works itself out,” Carlson said of his projected ice time on the man-advantage. “I’ve got to be better passing. I’ve got to read the breakout more. All those things we’ll work on in training camp when we’re under direct supervision.”
Last season, Carlson spent extra time before practices working on the little nuances of his game, like taking pucks on his backhand and getting off shots through traffic and off-balance. The added work and added responsibilities yielded his best-ever offensive season, both at even strength (8 goals, 30 assists) and on the power play (3 goals, 13 assists).
But it was Green’s 17 power play points that led all Caps defensemen, one more than Carlson.
“The numbers are the numbers,” Carlson said of reaching his career highs last season. “Last year I thought my numbers were better, but in my mind I just thought I played better overall.
“I thought I was better in the defensive zone, better breaking pucks out, and harder on people. Those are the little things you want to expand on. I can definitely be a little harder to play against in some situations and a little more physical here and there. I know I can get better. We’ll probably be asked to carry the load more and we have to be ready.”
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