The way he played in the second half of last season, when he was snapping passes on a string and shooting with pinpoint accuracy, it looked as though Capitals defenseman Mike Green had turned a corner in his career.
That’s what makes this season so perplexing for the Caps’ 28-year-old veteran.
In 30 games this season, Green has two goals, 14 assists and is a minus-9. Over 82 games, that projects to five goals, 38 assists and a minus-24 rating.
But it’s the penalty minutes that really stand out. Green has 46 penalty minutes and ranks second in the NHL with 18 minor penalties. Only Winnipeg defenseman Dustin Byfuglien  has more.
Some of those penalties can be attributed to poor positioning and decision-making with the puck and that’s something Green has been trying to correct during recent talks with the Capitals’ coaching staff.
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“Sometimes the simple play is right there and a guy who’s regarded as an offensive player maybe looks for something better,” Caps coach Adam Oates said, “and it’s our job as coaches to remind him that the [safe] play is actually the one we want. Every once in a while guys get out of sorts and it’s part of our job to get him back on.”
Despite a glaring giveaway that led to a bad-angle goal by Sean Couturier in Sunday afternoon’s 5-4 shootout win over the Flyers, Green played a solid overall game alongside new defense partner Dmitry Orlov, finishing with four shots, one goal, no penalty minutes and a plus-2 rating.
After the game, Oates stressed the importance of Green making short, safe passes out of the defensive zone instead of looking for the more dangerous home-run passes that stretch out opposing defenses, especially against teams like the Flyers, who have become a tighter checking team under new head coach Craig Berube.
“We want his touches and we want his decisions, but we want a good pass,” Oates said.
“If you try to do something too spectacular, if it doesn’t work, he’s out of position. If you do the simple play, if it doesn’t work, you’re in a better position to recover. You have to have a fallout plan.”
Oates said the days of defensemen lugging the puck through all three zones are history, calling that approach “a recipe for disaster.”
Green began his career with those death defying rushes, but agrees they don’t work in today’s NHL.
“It’s not going to be one guy carrying it end to end,” Green said. “Teams are too good now with their systems. Adam recognizes that and he’s working with us to make those 3-foot, 4-foot, 5-foot passes.”