As improved as the Washington Capitals have been this season under Coach Barry Trotz, the Caps ability to play with a lead and close out games has remained quite a question mark. Witness Tuesday night’s despicable shootout loss to the lowly Edmonton Oilers.
In that game, the Capitals led, 4-2, with five minutes remaining. The Caps had dominated the game and appeared in good position to get a nice victory heading into the All Star Break.
But the coach shortened the bench, like Trotz has done on numerous occasions this season, in an attempt to put what he thought were his best defensive players on the ice in order to close out the game. Part of that strategy included not playing Mike Green (and his defensive partner) over the last the five minutes in regulation.
Green is the best skater, passer, and puck possession defensemen on the roster. So why was he not on the ice when it seems you’d want a guy like that out there?
In fact, #52 has “sat the pine” in each of the three previous games in which the Caps had a slim lead late, as evidenced by the data below:
1 shift for only 12 seconds in the last 6 minutes versus Philly (1-0 lead)
1 shift for 44 seconds in the last 7 minutes versus Colorado (2-1 lead)
0 shifts in last 5 minutes versus Detroit (3-1 lead)
In each of those three games the Capitals were heavily out shot late and just hung on to win. Trotz went to that well, not playing Green, again last night and failed miserably.
It’s often stated in sports “that the best defense is a good offense.”
Trotz has called Green the Caps “X-Factor” for a reason. When he’s on his game, and he’s pretty much mostly been that way all season, he can carry a team. Former Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t call him “The One Man Breakout” for nothing.
I can understand not wanting to put the 6th defensemen (Jack Hillen) on the ice late in games. But not playing Hillen doesn’t also mean you have to sit a player of Green’s calibre too.
Why not go to a five defensemen rotation late in games? After all, playing just four D for the last five minutes has to wear out the guys who are playing and decrease their probability of getting the puck out of the zone, right?
If Green’s on the ice, chances are greater that the puck will be in the offensive end of the rink. He’s faster than the other four D so isn’t he more likely to get to the dump-ins and loose pucks than Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, John Carlson, and Karl Alzner?
Green has four goals and 23 assists this season including a goal and 14 assists in his last 16 games.
Bottom line, the Capitals are a better team with Mike Green on the ice, it’s a part of the reason the club is getting the lead in so many games.
Sure he’s prone to a big turnover every now and then, or “The Big Mistake”, as our friends over at Japers Rink call it.
But to me the Big Mistake is not having Green on the ice late in games. Get him out there more often and the Caps should find it much easier to close out more victories.