Red Wings defenseman Green adding much needed offense
Detroit — Offense from the back end, a growing problem for the Red Wings in recent seasons, emerged as a full-blown crisis last year.
It makes Mike Green’s better performance essential.
His leadership might prove just as important.
Of the 31 goal and 88 assists from defensemen, last season, Green had 14 and 22.
It is the most goals Green tallied since 2009-10, when the native of Calgary finished second in voting for the Norris Trophy for a consecutive season.
As the lineup evolves from the Wings’ accomplished past, preserving the attitude, work ethic and style of play is a priority for Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall, who have been around the dressing room for more than a decade.
Green’s example, experience and wisdom are increasingly significant.
That he played for the Capitals until 2015 scarcely matters.
The understated, matter-of-fact Green sets a measured tone. On the ice, where some inexperienced Red Wings strive to make NHL hockey second-nature, he provides direction.
Martin Frk appeared in his third NHL game, opening night at Little Caesars Arena, when Green, who turns 32 Thursday, appeared in his 722nd.
When he directed Frk to the best scoring position, the 23-year-old rookie with the booming shot listened.
Frk scored from the high, left slot from Anthony Mantha at 10:49 of the third period, securing the 4-2 win.
The young sniper emerged strongly encouraged to consider Green’s counsel.
The cliché is, “wily veteran.”
“Obviously, I’ve been in a lot of situations, so I know kind of what to expect,” Green said.
“It comes with time and experience.”
He has played with and against the best, season after season, including Alexander Ovechkin.
“You know, with Frky,” said Green, a two-time All-Star. “I’ve played with ‘Ovi,’ where the same shot is there. So, I figured I’d help the kid out, make sure he’s in the right spot so I can get him the puck.”
Listening to Green, not only is reality identified, it is done with ease and an economy of words.
“It’s basically a forehand-to-forehand pass,” he said.
“‘Frky has a pretty good one-timer. So, as long as I put it fairly close to his wheelhouse, he’ll get a good shot off.
“Nowadays, it’s good to get that shot off quick because the guys are getting in the lanes.”
Preserving the philosophy and principles the franchise rode has become a priority for the Wings. Mid-career additions to the roster can also provide leadership for young players.
With the Red Wings attempting to rebuild and make the playoffs simultaneously, Green’s offensive contribution is critical.
When they lost Brian Rafalski and Nicklas Lidstrom in consecutive seasons five years ago, the Wings suddenly lacked defensemen who routinely gained possession in their own end and quickly launched the offense.
Green’s hat trick on the last opening night at Joe Louis Arena in 2016 and his four assists in the first game at Little Caesars Arena helped settle the hard-pressed defensemen.
“It’s just luck,” Green said of his hot opening night in Detroit.
Almost sheepishly, he added, “Let’s not make that a thing.
“I think everybody was just excited to get going, me included. I was just lucky to be on the score sheet.”
The dominating performances gave a roster in transition enough reliable offense that they could spend less time in their own zone.
Against the Wild Oct. 5, Green became the first defenseman in seven years with four points in a game.
Lidstrom last did it on Dec. 27, 2010. Pavel Datsyuk was the last Wings player to do it, on Feb. 21, 2015.
Green’s contribution also improves the power play.
Almost impossibly bad, at times, in the first 50 games last season, the Wings scored goals on 25 percent of power plays over the last 30.
Through two games, so far, they are clicking at a rate of 22.2 percent. Green assisted on both power-play goals, by Mantha and Dylan Larkin.
It’s why the Red Wings would have liked Green on the roster earlier his career.
“You know what? I didn’t know too much about that to be honest with you,” he said. “It wasn’t until I got here that I heard things.
“Yeah, I’m here, and I’m happy to be here. So that’s all that matters now.”
A 30-assist, 40-point season by Green would be his first since 2013-14, and might help the Red Wings make the playoffs.
But if the Wings are far enough out of the playoffs at the trade deadline, Green may be gone.
He earns $6 million this season before becoming an unrestricted free agent.
“Obviously, I’m a different player than when I was really young,” Green said.
“I think when I was young I was all offensive minded and didn’t play too much defense, to be honest with you. And now I’ve tried to find a balance between the two.
“You know, at times, I think it’s maybe hurt the offensive numbers.
“But I think the overall balance is a lot better.”