WASHINGTON, D.C. - Mike Green had the right to be tentative. His first games back from injury recently have not gone well.
After the Pittsburgh Penguins' Brooks Orpik struck Green with a slap shot to the right side of the head last February 6, Green missed one game before making a return against the Los Angeles Kings on February 12. Green, however, experienced concussion symptoms after the game and did not play in the next five.
Green only took two shifts in his second return February 26 against the New York Rangers before being hit by Derek Stepan and leaving the game. He did not play another game in the regular season.
This season, Green twisted his right ankle during the first period of Washington's 7-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings on October 22, causing him to miss six games. Once that six-game layoff ended on November 11 against the New Jersey Devils, Green made it eight shifts before an awkward hit from Ryan Carter left him with a strained right groin muscle, which cost him 23 games.
On Tuesday, Green made it through the Caps' 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames relatively unscathed, but that was no consolation to him.
"I'll be honest with you, [my play was] not that great," Green said when asked how he felt after the game. "I think it's gonna take some time to get my feel back. I haven't played for a while. [I need to] just get the rust out of my game. I'll be back to normal soon, but it's gonna take some time."
Green took 17 shifts Tuesday for a total of 15 minutes and 43 seconds (with 49 seconds of power-play time), had no shots on goal (though two were blocked), three hits, two turnovers and four penalty minutes. Statistics aside, Green's first game back was forgettable.
He did not necessarily shy away from contact, but he did not go looking for it either. Flashes of his skating ability manifested themselves at points, but his lack of lateral quickness did too. For example, during Rene Bourque's second-period semi-breakaway chance, Green did his best to catch up to him, but ultimately slowed down, giving Bourque a clear path to the net.
"I've only had this week of skating, but I think more so it's just getting in the game and playing," Green said. "I think that there were times where I felt like I could jump and didn't have the energy to do it. It's just a matter of getting everything back and functioning properly."
The Caps dressed seven defensemen Tuesday as a way to ease Green back into game action. Throughout the game, he saw several partners, including John Erskine and Roman Hamrlik, both of whom have spent time with Green in the past. Green was paired with Dmitry Orlov during his first shifts, the first time those two had ever played in a pairing -- let alone a game -- together. But Green played with all three admirably, proving his immeasurable value to Washington.
Green refused to give himself any kind of grade after Tuesday's game, admitting that he's hard on himself and that he's "not even close" to where it wants to be. That, however, will come in time just like Green said. No one expected Green, who played in a total of 33 games during the calendar year of 2011, to return to his former Norris Trophy-candidate self right away, but the sooner that he does, the better the Caps will be.
"You're rusty and you're not going to play up to your standards," head coach Dale Hunter said when asked to review Green's performance. "But you've got to start somewhere."