Recently three puckheads congregated around a few rounds of puck sodas on a sticky late summer night, and the topic of Mike Green’s poor playoff showing arose. Among them this line of thought emerged: who in old media or new speculated that not only was Green likely playing injured for the Capitals during the postseason but that some of his decision-making and instincts on the ice could have been impaired by some manner of painkillers?
Green’s postseason performance was so conspicuously substandard, and sustained, far beyond any level of struggling he’d known before, we beer-sipping puckheads agreed. Is postulating that he played distinctly pained and numbed really an implausible line of speculation?
Of course we’ll never know for sure. But Greener’s springtime fall was so precipitous relative to his record-setting standards of mid-winter, something truly anomalous had to have been afflicting him. We didn’t much see him giddy-up-and-go with the puck as if with jet-propulsion through narrowly open lanes, and we didn’t much see him unleash his characteristic bomb from the point.
While Greener’s not renowned for physical play in his own end, he has early in his career showcased some orneriness and some level of body clearing ethos about the slot, and certainly defended along the corners and end boards with terrific competitiveness, and yet in the postseason he appeared physically unable of effectively engaging in such labor. In general, he didn’t much seem in possession of his amply demonstrated, elite vision and hockey sense shift after shift. With the truly great players, their brilliance is often executed as if the game were contested in slow motion, and yet last postseason, on so many of Mike Green’s shifts, it seemed as if the game couldn;t slow down fast enough for him. Pretty much, he seemed really off every postseason night.
This stretch of sub-standard performance seems a real outlier in his early career rather than a newly arrived wave of wild inconsistency. Something had to have been wrong — and quite likely, seriously wrong.
Green very well could have suffered a debilitating injury on this play in just the second game of the postseason:
I don’t know about you, but my hockey playing after such a hit wouldn’t look quite polished and poised.
On Naslund’s game 2 crunch you’ll notice that Green’s back not only absorbed the brunt of the impact but that Greener’s head appeared to snap back against the boards.While it’s pure speculation, it’s eminently possible that Green could have sustained a mild concussion on the play. And the hit occurred early enough in the postseason to explain a lot of Green’s subsequent struggles. It’s mere speculation, but I don’t think it’s baseless.
Listening in on this speculation, and reconsidering Green’s larger achievements early on in his career, I found myself persuaded by this small consensus hypothesis. And it occurred to me that in the immediate aftermath of a brutally tough seven-game setback to a most-loathed rival, few of us are in position to diagnose all decisive factors — including relatively subtle ones (Green’s getting right up from the hit understandably would cause most to imagine that it didn’t have much impact on him) with the benefit of distance and dispassionate sobriety. We the savagely disappointed clad in red rather instinctively seek out scapegoats, and Mike Green surely knew his share of criticism for the Caps’ second round failure. But time often affords clarification.
As we move toward the start of a very promising new season for the Caps I think we ought to give serious weight to the theory that something wildly anomalous befell Mike Green in the 2009 postseason, and that the circumstances were representative of, and directly contributory to, a true outlier of under-performance in his very elite game. Mike Green is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, a linchpin of a Capitals’ Cup-contending team. When’s he’s reasonably healthy, he’s a game-changing force.