On October 19, the Los Angeles Kings found themselves leading the Dallas Stars 4-2 with a few minutes remaining in the game. As the seconds ticked off the clock in the final minute, veteran defenseman Matt Greene cleared the puck off the boards from deep in the Kings' zone.
The puck flew high in the air over center ice before sliding down into the middle of an empty Dallas net. Luck? Perhaps. An insignificant goal in a game already decided? Absolutely.
But for Greene, whose best statistical season includes just four goals and 11 assists, every point counts.
The 30-year-old Michigan native is known more for his defensive awareness, shutdown abilities and physical edge. A second-round pick (44th overall) of the Edmonton Oilers in the 2002 NHL draft, Greene is in his ninth season and sixth with the Kings.
With hard work and a little luck, 2013-14 could end up being the best campaign of his career.
Greene and Jarret Stoll were acquired by the Kings in June 2008. In exchange, the Oilers received Lubomir Visnovsky. Greene was named alternate captain of the Kings on October 8, 2008 and signed a five-year, $14.75 million contract extension just over a week later.
The fact that he's now playing out the final year of that contract should serve as extra motivation to perform well and prove that he's worth the annual salary of $2.95 million.
Coming off a season in which he played only five games due to a back injury, Greene is showing he's healthy and can contribute each and every night.
He's notched two goals and an assist in 12 games, which puts him on pace to top his career high of 15 points. Offense, however, is a very small part of what could make this a great year for Greene.
He has been at his best defensively. Whether it's taking away the shooting lanes, winning battles along the boards or covering his man effectively, Greene has done it all.
His plus/minus rating of plus-five leads all L.A. players, and that's due in large part to his strong play five-on-five. Since recording a minus-one rating in the Kings' opener, he's been an even or plus player in every game.
As a gritty, stay-at-home defenseman, physicality is a crucial component of Greene's game. His 39 hits are a team high and also have him ranked in the league's top 10. With 26 blocked shots, he trails Willie Mitchell by just one for the team lead and ranks inside the top 25 in the NHL.
At age 30, Greene is still in the prime of his career. As long as he stays healthy, there is no reason he can't continue to build off his solid start. He's averaging nearly 17 minutes of ice time per game, almost a quarter of which is spent on the penalty kill.
And speaking of penalties, Greene has done a good job of staying out of the box, with just eight penalty minutes on the season.
Finally, there's his defensive partner, who has varied at times but is currently Jake Muzzin. With a young, offensive-minded player like Muzzin, Greene may benefit offensively. With that said, he can also focus on what he does best—playing sound defense—while Muzzin takes responsibility for carrying the puck up the ice and pinching if need be.
No, Greene won't make headlines this season because of his play. He may not even see time on the second pairing. But for a fifth or sixth defenseman who plays every game like it's his last and is a leader in a dressing room full of leaders, this could be a season to remember.
Contract information courtesy of CapGeek.com.
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