Caps defenseman Hillen rejoins lineup, Green out against Islanders

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – Capitals defenseman Mike Green will not play Wednesday when Washington opens a home-and-home series against the New York Islanders (7 p.m. on WFED 1500AM), according to head coach Barry Trotz.

Green has been held out of practice the past two days and is considered day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Veteran defenseman Jack Hillen is expected to join the lineup in his place as the Caps visit the Islanders tonight in Uniondale, New York.

Green was hit by Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen in the second period on Saturday and was limited to just one shift in the final frame.

“We all know what Mike can do out there,” said defenseman Karl Alzner. “He’s good at breaking the puck out and he creates a ton of offense on the top (power play) unit so it’s a big piece of the team when you lose that guy… That’s one of your best players and when you lose one of your best players, it hurts.”

Green leads all Washington defensemen in scoring this season with three goals and 12 points in 19 games, despite averaging fewer than 20 minutes of ice time for the first time since his rookie season in 2006-2007.

With the offseason acquisitions of free agent defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen, Green has played primarily on Washington’s third defensive pairing alongside second-year pro Nate Schmidt.

“He’s been very engaged and I think his defensive game has been surprisingly good,” Trotz said of Green.

“He was going really well for us. I was happy with his rounded game but unfortunately these last couple of games he got a little nicked up, where he’s not 100 percent.”

With Green sidelined, veteran defenseman Jack Hillen is expected to return to the Capitals lineup after sitting as a healthy scratch for the last 19 games. Hillen has not played since Washington’s Oct. 9 season-opener against the Montreal Canadiens.

“I’m excited to get back in there,” Hillen said. “It’s going to be a little bit of a mix of nerves and excitement, but I think once I get through that first period and get used to the speed of play again, I’ll be fine. I’m really excited for the challenge. They’re a great team. (New York is) my old team, so I think it will be fun. You just have to enjoy it. Enjoy the ride and have fun.”

Hillen is in his third season with the Capitals, but a pair of long-term injuries (fractures ribs and a broken leg) sidelined him for all but 36 games during his first two years with Washington.

Hillen stayed healthy throughout training camp and the preseason this fall, but his mental toughness has been tested throughout the regular season. The 28-year-old has practiced and trained with his teammates every day, despite not knowing when, or if, he might return to the lineup.

“The toughest thing is that you have to prepare like you’re going to play every game,” Hillen explained.

“Mentally it can be tough when you prepare like you’re going to play every game, and then every game you get that letdown when you’re not in. You’ve got to stay positive but sometimes that can be a challenge when you prepare like you’re in and then it doesn’t happen. Staying positive is all you can do though. You can only control what you can control in life and your attitude is one of those things.”

Teammates and coaches alike have been impressed at how Hillen has carried himself during the past seven weeks, lauding the veteran for his patience and encouragement.

“We’re fortunate that we have Jack,” Alzner said. “He’s been telling us every single day that he’s feeling great… When you’re not playing games, you don’t feel like you’re as close with everybody. And he’s been handling it incredibly. I don’t know what he says at home or around his family, but he doesn’t say it here.”

“It’s not that Jack is happy, he’s not happy,” said Trotz, who coached Hillen previously with the Nashville Predators during the 2011-2012 season.

“Every player wants to play. The key to being a good pro is when you’re not playing, you just compete as hard as you can in practice. If you don’t have a good attitude, then you start bringing other players down around you, and then it’s time to move that player out, in my opinion.”

Hillen agrees, explaining that he has had little choice but to remain positive and make the most of difficult circumstances.

“I’ve seen it before where guys who aren’t playing have a poor attitude and then the next thing you know, they’re gone,” Hillen said. “That’s the way it is. You can’t have a poor attitude. They’ll get rid of you. You have to keep a good attitude. You have to keep pumping up the guys around you. And being a good teammate is part of being of a good professional.”

While Hillen will return to the Capitals lineup, forward Brooks Laich remains sidelined with an upper-body injury and has been ruled out for Wednesday’s game in New York.

Laich has missed seven straight games and 14 of the last 15 overall.

Catch the Capitals and New York Islanders at 7 p.m. Wednesday on WFED 1500AM and online at WFED.com. Pregame coverage begins at 6:45 p.m.

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