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Capitals’ Green quick to regain form on ice

CAPITALS’ DEFENSEMAN PLAYS LONGER

THAN ANTICIPATED IN VICTORY

BY ZAC BOYER

Mike Green considers himself his toughest critic. How tough? After making his return for the Washington Capitals last night after missing nearly eight weeks, he didn’t want to address how he played.

“I don’t even want to comment on that,” Green said, shaking his head. “I’m hard on myself.”

It wasn’t as if Green had an abysmal night. He returned from a strained right groin muscle and the Capitals won their fourth consecutive game, defeating Calgary 3–1 at the Verizon Center last night.

Nicklas Backstrom assisted on all three goals for the Capitals (21–15–6), who played their Canadian foes for the only time this season. Alex Ovechkin had a power-play goal a little over a minute in, Troy Brouwer also scored with a man advantage, and Dennis Wideman answered Curtis Glencross’ lone Flames tally a little more than three minutes after it was scored in the second period.

But much of the focus was on Green, 26, who missed 29 of Washington’s last 30 games. He injured his right ankle after the team’s home victory over Detroit on Oct. 20 and missed six games, only to injure the groin in the first period at New Jersey on Nov. 11.

The return has been long in the making. Green thought the muscle was improving early last month, but he visited a specialist in mid-December to receive further diagnosis. It wasn’t until last week that he returned to practice—his first time on the ice since head coach Dale Hunter replaced Bruce Boudreau on Nov. 28.

That adjustment alone was something to overcome. Green prepared to adapt to Hunter’s style of play by watching additional film, and he didn’t expect to make a significant mark in last night’s game, instead figuring he’d ease into the lineup and play closer to 10 minutes than he would the 20-plus minutes he was used to.

Instead, Green saw 15:43 of ice time, spread out fairly evenly over the three periods. The Capitals did not scratch any of their defensemen, keeping the six others active to help spell Green and ease him into the lineup.

His first shift came two minutes in, paired with rookie Dmitry Orlov, and he rotated at times with Karl Alzner, Roman Hamrlik and John Erskine. He was also whistled for two penalties—holding early in the second and interference late in the third—and had three hits in 17 shifts.

“I thought he played well for what, the eight games he’s played in this year,” Wideman said. “I think he’s been out for a while and I thought he came back, he’s making great plays, making the right reads and then he’s jumping the play a couple times. I thought he played pretty good.”

The Flames, who entered fourth in the league with goals on 24.2 percent of their power plays, were held without one in four tries yesterday. The Capitals have now killed their opponents’ last 11 advantages and have not allowed a power play goal over their last nine games.

Washington’s power play, meanwhile, continues rolling. With the two goals—Ovechkin’s one-timer from Backstrom 1:11 into the game and Brouwer’s ricochet that slipped between Miikka Kiprusoff’s left skate and the post 8:49 into the second—the Capitals have now scored four power-play goals during their winning streak.

Calgary (18–18–5), playing its sixth game in a two-week, seven-game road trip, has now lost its last four. It failed in providing a milestone: the 500th career goal for Jarome Iginla, who was scoreless in four shots on goal but did feed Glencross from behind the net on the Flames’ only tally.

Tomas Vokoun, making his fourth consecutive start in net, had 18 saves. The only damper on the night for the Capitals was the status of Backstrom, who took an elbow to the head from Cal-gary defenseman Rene Bourque with 9:48 remaining and was being evaluated afterward for signs of a possible concussion.

“Guys are doing everything that it takes to win,” said Green, who is now 9–0 in the games he’s played this season. “We’ve got guys that are blocking shots. We’re getting pucks deep when we need them. There’s going to be mistakes that happen during the game, but as long as we stay focused on being committed as a team, we’ll be all right.”

Zac Boyer: 540/374-5440

zboyer@freelancestar.com

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