Mike Green colors the Norris race
Mike Green, 23, is leading NHL defensemen in scoring in his fourth season
Green can become the first Capital to ever lead the NHL blueliners outright
A bona fide Norris Trophy contender, Green is +19 and playing with an edge
Maybe it's the faux hawk or his taste for UFC. Maybe it's the Lamborghini he drives or the small silver skull pinned to his skinny black tie. Whatever it is, though, it's not hard to see that Capitals defenseman Mike Green has got a bit of an edge. He doesn't look like the conservative type -- nor does he play like one.
While Green may not garner quite as much Norris Trophy attention as, say, Boston's Zdeno Chara or even Nashville's Shea Weber, he's certainly shaping up to be one of the league's best defensemen, not that too many people are noticing. Sure, he may not launch booming 105.4 mph point shots or deliver crushing checks on every shift, but as Caps coach Bruce Boudreau says, "the numbers don't lie."
And what do the numbers say? Well, in his fourth season, the 23-year-old Green is leading NHL defensemen with 17 goals and 44 points, and is currently riding a five-game goal streak. If he can hold off Montreal's Andrei Markov, another oft-overlooked defenseman who is currently in second with 40 points, Green will be the first Capital to ever lead the league's blueliners outright. At the rate he's going, his chances are looking pretty good.
Among defensemen, Green is the only one -- and by a significant margin --who is averaging more than a point per game. His 13 power play goals are tied for second, two off the league lead for all skaters. He's put up 24 points in his last 17 games and now has 14 multi-point games, more than any other defenseman.
Some will point to Green's overcommitment to offense, of course, but if Paul Coffey can win three Norris trophies while playing like a fourth forward, Green's name should at least be put in the hat. Sure, there is merit in questioning his defensive game.
His lapses were exposed by the L.A. Kings' rushing attack as they beat the Caps, 5-4, on Thursday night. Against New Jersey on Tuesday, Washington gave up a short-handed goal partly because Green and Alexander Semin pushed forward and gave the Devils' Jamie Langenbrunner enough open ice to break away. But if it weren't for Green's willingness to take risks and sneak into open areas, he wouldn't have scored that game's first goal. (He came in backdoor and put a high shot past goalie Scott Clemmensen.) A very stealth move.
"He scores like a forward," Boudreau says. "It's not just getting back and overpowering you with a shot. He can put it into areas that other people couldn't."
Green may not have the defensive smarts of Nicklas Lidstrom, or Chara's 6'9" frame, but he does have a keen scoring sense and has continued to improve in his own end. At plus-19, he ranks fourth among defensemen and is laying out enough hits for Boudreau to ask him to reel it in once in a while.
"One of the things that Boudreau harps on is that the best position defensively is going to be the best position offensively," says Capitals forward David Steckel. "Not that [Green] didn't care about defense, but I think he's concentrated more to the point where he knows where to put his body, where he can get up the rush and still get back."
Boudreau says it's all a matter of experience. "He's going to be a lot better next year than he is this year," the coach predicts. If so, future Norris Trophy races will be far more interesting.