NEW YORK -- Mike Green knows that on most nights that No. 52 on the back of his jersey might as well be a bull’s eye.
It comes with the territory when you’re a top puck-moving defenseman and you have an injury history as long Zdeno Chara’s hockey stick
“He’s a targeted man,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said Sunday after his team’s morning skate at Madison Square Garden, where they’ll face the Rangers tonight [6:30 p.m., Caps Central, CSN]. “He’s got to come to grips with that -- that they’re after him. It will sure help him the more he understands that.”
On Thursday night, his first game back in the lineup after missing 13 of the previous 15 games with a groin strain, Green was slammed into the boards by an Evander Kane cross-check in the closing minute of their 4-0 win.
Green finished that game with 22:44 of ice time and showed no effects of the late hit the next night when he picked up his third goal of the season and logged 19:48 of ice time.
“I’m used to it,” Green said of being a nightly target. “I’m used to that sort of play against myself. There was no inkling of pain.
“My whole goal when I was coming back was that I was 100 percent. I talked to George [McPhee] about it. You can only play the game efficiently when you feel good. You eliminate a lot of little bumps and bruises along the way because you’re able to move and get out of the way. Now it’s fine.”
The goal now is for Green to stay in the lineup for the remaining 17 games of the regular season and beyond. He’s played in just 99 of the Capitals’ 195 games over the past three seasons. Six of those 96 games were missed due to suspension, the other 93 to injury.
Oates said the Caps will “take every opportunity to minimize” the hits on Green and if that means goaltender Braden Holtby playing the puck, well, that’s part of the plan. Oates said he thought Holtby had one of his strongest games of the season Friday night, starting one breakout after another after the Caps forced the Jets to chip the puck behind the net.
“Holts was magic in breaking us out,” Oates said. “It’s a strategic part of the game nowadays. It allows everybody to take less contact.”
In his first two games back in the lineup Green played alongside Dmitry Orlov and Oates managed to keep his ice time well below the 26 minutes he averaged prior to the injury.
Green said he’s physically ready to log 30 minutes a night but is willing to follow the course that has been laid out for him, which is to stay in the 22- to 23-minute range, at least for the next few games.
“The process now is to ease back into it instead of full throttle,” Green said. “That’s a healthy way to do it and that’s what we’ll do.
“Honestly, I feel like I could play 30 minutes already. But it’s just the smart thing to do.”