Green, Howard make contrasting returns to D.C.

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Mike Green gets a holding penalty against Alex Ovechkin on Tuesday night.

Washington — Different buildings can spur different memories for hockey players as they make the rounds during an NHL season.

Mike Green and Jimmy Howard certainly have different memories of the Verizon Center, home of the Capitals.

Green returned Tuesday, the prodigal son of a Capitals franchise he helped improve beginning in 2006 with some generally outstanding offensive play as a defenseman the first 10 seasons of his career.

Howard returned to the scene of a rudely abrupt demise when he ripped his groin last season and was carted off the ice on a stretcher at the start of a game, just hours after he was named an All-Star.

Green was immediately surrounded by reporters who cover the Capitals when the Red Wings opened their dressing room after the 11:30 morning skate. How was the transition to a new town and team for him, personally, after a decade in Washington?

“We’re expecting,” Green said of he and his wife, Courtney Parrie. “So, that’s really exciting for us

“The transition was fairly easy. It took us a little while to get settled in our home, and what not.

“But as far as the hockey goes, everything went smooth,” said the big free agent signing for the Wings during the offseason, who brought both a right-hand shot and considerable offensive skill to the blue line, which the franchise had sought for four offseasons.

After a couple injuries, including during training camp, Green is increasingly effective and now looks like he might be headed to a 40- or 50-point season.

Howard’s situation was less noted, mentioned only in passing by the guy who decides those things, coach Jeff Blashill.

“Jimmy Howard has had success here in Washington as well, albeit with the injury,” Blashill said of starting Howard instead of Petr Mrazek, who played two good games against the Capitals in Detroit this season.

“But he’s had a good history of success. So that to me was a little bit of a wash.”

Howard’s mood was serious after the morning skate, and his business at hand included a powerful Capitals attack and Alex Ovechkin.

“Well, just the shot,” he said of Ovechkin. “Realizing where he is on the ice. He’s dangerous, whether he’s in the rush or standing there waiting for the one-timer on the power play.

“So, we’ve just got to eliminate his chances to the best of our abilities.”

If there were any bad memories for Howard, it did not show.

For Green, there are lots of good ones, both in the building and around town.

He can recall that when he broke in with the Capitals in 2006, the building had a different name, and 6,000-8,000 fans in attendance a frequent occurrence. Now, it often sells out.

“I didn’t do anything spectacular, other than enjoying playing the game, here,” said the native of Calgary, Alberta, humbly avoiding taking too much credit. “It’s exciting to see how far it’s come, though, since I started.”

Green talked about the sentiment he felt coming back.

“You’ve obviously spent a great deal of time in the area, and some of the things I was most proud of was the off-ice stuff, as far as charities,” he said.

His activities benefited the Children’s National Medical Center, Most Valuable Kids, and a charity co-founded with a local media, through which Green helped raise money to construct a playground in an underprivileged neighborhood in nearby Alexandria, Va.

But, Green eventually found he wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to play in Detroit, especially when Washington restocked with defensemen like John Carlson and Matt Niskanen.

“Once I talked to (Red Wings general manager) Ken Holland and we sort of discussed where I fit in and role-wise, I had always admired the organization from afar, and I just wanted to see what it was all about,” Green said.

“So, it was an easy decision for me.”

Certainly easier than a ripped groin interrupting what was perhaps Howard’s finest season.

But that was not the topic of the day for him, and one could see it in his face.

After too many games in which he and Mrazek may have thought they had to pitch a shutout to win, Howard likes how the club is playing. And, for one night in December, it was a lot more important than something drastic that happened in January.

“As of late, we’ve been doing a great job of generating opportunities, and we’ve been finding the back of the net,” said Howard, now 31 and playing in his 10th season for the Red Wings.

“We’ve just got to keep that focus of getting pucks to the net, getting traffic in front of opposing team’s goalies and winning the puck battles there.”

It has been a recipe for success, recently, for the Wings, with two goalies playing well, and Green as an increasingly key ingredient.