Thursday, February 10, 2011, 1:40 p.m.
By Mark Zuckerman
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Mike Green practiced with the Washington Capitals Thursday morning. He said he feels fine and that he "should be good to go on Saturday." Coach Bruce Boudreau is expecting his All-Star defenseman to play this weekend against the Los Angeles Kings.
But until team doctors give him the green light, Green's status will remain uncertain. And given the extreme caution the Capitals have shown with him -- not to mention the recent headlines involving concussions in the NHL -- few would be surprised if Green isn't allowed to play.
"It's frustrating for me, but I have to be safe here and make sure I'm all healed up before I get back," Green said. "There's no point in me being out there unless I'm at least 80, 90, 100 percent."
Green insisted he was in top shape Thursday when he practiced for the first time since getting struck in the head by a slapshot Sunday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, though he did sit out the final conditioning drill. Afterward, he discussed the disconcerting equilibrium issues he experienced in the immediate aftermath of the incident.
"The first couple of days, it took some time to come back," he said. "But I feel fine now. That was the thing. It was more of a balance thing than an actual concussion. But I feel good. I should be good to go on Saturday."
The Capitals have been careful not to use the word "concussion" with respect to Green's situation. He was struck directly on the right ear on the slapshot by Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik and left a pool of blood on the ice, but he remained at Verizon Center through the remainder of the game and has yet to take any neurological tests (he's supposed to do that Friday).
Green was held out of Tuesday's game against the Sharks, and at some point, the team will have to decide whether he can dress Saturday against the Kings.
"I look at Mike, and unless he has tremendous headaches this afternoon, I've got to believe he's fine," Boudreau said. "We never once used the word concussion. But if I hit you over the head, you're going to have a headache. ... He's fine."
Concussions were a regular occurrence for hockey players from the previous generation. Boudreau has no idea if he ever actually sustained one during his playing career, but only because they were never diagnosed.
Today's NHL players are becoming more aware of the dangers of head injuries and returning to the ice too quickly after sustaining them.
Caps defenseman Karl Alzner suffered the lone concussion of his career two years ago during the second round of the AHL playoffs. With no symptoms only a few days after suffering the injury, he assumed he was ready to play again. Then the headaches returned, and before Alzner knew it, he had missed three weeks of the postseason.
"If you've never had a concussion before, it's a very strange feeling," he said. "You think you're fine. You're just sitting there and nothing's happening. And then sure enough, you start watching TV for too long and your head starts pounding. ...
"It's a tough injury, because it's almost like you feel and look like you're not battling through it, or you're not being tough. But it's not something you can battle through. It's one of the worst injuries. You don't want to wish that upon your worst enemies."
The Capitals say they won't take any chances and rush Green back to the ice. At the same time, since he wasn't showing any tangible post-concussion symptoms four days after the initial incident, he was cleared to practice Thursday.
From a competitive standpoint, they could desperately use their All-Star defenseman in uniform, especially with a five-game road trip coming up next week.
"Yeah, but at the same time you're talking about a man's livelihood and his life," Boudreau said. "We're not going to take chances with that. But if Mike wasn't feeling 100 percent, he wouldn't have been out there today."