Much has been made of Mike Green’s resurgence so far this season for the Washington Capitals since his return from the injured list. For the veteran defenseman, it’s been about making adjustments and confidence in the systems that new coach Barry Trotz has put in place.
Asked why it appears he’s skating so much better this season, Green answered quickly.
“Change in system. Everybody’s skating a lot better, to be honest,” Green said after Thursday’s pregame skate at Kettler. “I think that has a lot to do with the structure of our system and being confident within it. It’s just a matter of being consistent throughout the year.”
Green played with Nate Schmidt in his first game and much of the next, but in the third period in Tuesday’s shootout loss to San Jose, Green found himself with veteran Brooks Orpik for a few shifts.
For his part, Green said he’d prefer a regular partner, but realizes the practicality of the situation.
“It’s tough,” Green started, “but you know, it is what it is. This league is all about adjustments and being able to adjust in certain situations. I’d rather have one partner, but it is what it is. I really enjoy playing with Nate [Schmidt] right now. Great young player, good energy, makes smart plays. He’s got all the tools in his trunk. He’s been great.
Schmidt has just tried to soak it all in after making the team out of camp with injuries to Jack Hillen and Dmitry Orlov. “Mike’s just tremendous with the puck. He does a lot of things that hopefully I’ll be able to learn one day, but the last two games that he’s been able to play in he’s been awesome. We played a little bit together last year but we’re just trying to get even more familiar with each other so I can let him do his things. He’s an extremely talented guy. We talk a lot on the bench, a lot of communication. He’s been here for ten years, he knows the ropes, and for me just to soak up as much information as I can from guys like him can only be beneficial for me in the long run.
Schmidt watched with interest this past offseason as the team brought in two veteran blueliners, but he’s taken a “best case scenario” approach to his position on the depth chart.
“Both those guys have been extremely helpful,” Schmidt said of Matt Niskanen and Orpik. “With Nisky being a fellow Minnesotan, just to have that connection with him is really helpful. And Brooksy, is the definition of a pro. He comes to the rink every day, he does everything the right way whether it’s on or off the ice. For me, I don’t even have to talk to him every day to pick up something new because he’s been around and has so much experience.”
Schmidt is realistic about where he stands, but he’s looking to make a good impression while he’s given the opportunity.
“We had those two guys [Orpik, Niskanen] come in and at first glance you’re like, ‘Aw man, I’m gonna be too far down [the depth chart],’ but it opened up a door for me to learn from these guys and go out and contribute to this team. My goal coming into camp was to make the team and try to make it real hard for them to push me down.
I think it’s been going well so far. We have been growing as a D corps each and every day. We had two great games. Last game might not have been our best but we learned a lot from it so I’m excited going forward.”
While his status might be in question when Hillen and Orlov eventually return, he’s going to make the most of wearing the Caps sweater while he can.
“For a guy like me, that’s as much as I can do is take up as much experience of being around those guys. They’ve been through it all — what works, what doesn’t work — those are the types of things that you need to learn as a young player, hopefully at an earlier age than later on.”
Schmidt had a unique view of the organizational struggles last season, being a tweener between the big club and AHL Hershey, both of which failed to qualify for the postseason.
He said the tension could be felt throughout the organization. “It’s kind of a trickle down effect,” Schmidt said. “We were pushing for the playoffs too at Hershey last year and we didn’t make the playoffs. It was kinda tough. I think it was the first time ever both teams missed the playoffs in a long time so it’s a disheartening thing.”
“You want both teams in, you want both clubs to win, cause when you win, good things happen for everybody. Wherever it may be, whether it’s AHL guys getting NHL time here or anywhere else, but this is a great group of guys and it would be special to get back to that here.”