- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Matt Greene wouldn’t be the hockey card 9-year-old kids in Southern California would ever fight over.
Kopitar, Brown, Richards, Quick, Doughty, Carter ... those are the faces of this Los Angeles Kings team, they’re the big boys who sell tickets.
But if you ask the players on the Kings about a player who matters an awful lot to the fabric of the team, Greene’s name comes up all the time.
He’s a glue guy. On and off the ice, he’s just that part on a team that, if he’s not there, the machine isn’t functioning at the same rate.
Greene missed most of this season recovering from back surgery and then missed the opening nine games of the postseason with another injury he incurred upon his regular-season return, and while he was out, there was just something off with the equilibrium of this club.
"The things that you guys don’t see," began Kings star Mike Richards on Friday, when asked about why Greene mattered so much to this team.
"The leadership, the dressing room, that powerful voice, all year we missed him," said Richards. "On the ice, too, just how physical he plays and how hard he is to play against. If you go back to before we got [Robyn] Regehr too, that’s what we were lacking on the back end. We have some skilled guys who move the puck well, but I don’t think you can replace someone who plays that physical and how hard both of those guys are to play against. Matt coming back is a big boost for us. You can just see how different a team we are with him in the lineup. He sets the tone physically."
"It's awesome," said Kings forward Trevor Lewis. "It provides a lot of energy to see him out there, being a physical presence and coming down and making strong plays. It’s great to see. We missed him a lot this year. He was really good early [Thursday] night."
Greene wasn’t available to the media Friday, no doubt needing to rest his body after a physical 13:17 in Game 5. After the game on Thursday, he told me he wouldn’t be worth a darn to anyone on his team if he didn’t step up and play that way physically.
You can see why his teammates love this guy.
"He’s a big voice in the locker room," said fellow veteran Rob Scuderi. "When he was missing this year, you could really feel it in the atmosphere of the dressing room. It’s not necessarily something that’s needed to play well, but it lightens the atmosphere and it keeps things loose, which is a big part of the season and the playoffs. You can’t be serious all the time. We certainly missed him in that way. And certainly what he brings to us on the ice, we missed his experience and leadership."
You could sense Scuderi wasn’t quite totally putting his finger on it. As the conversation continued Friday with reporters on the subject of Greene’s value to the team, Scuderi put it another way.
"Sometimes I know he may not get a lot of press, doesn’t get a lot of points or statistics -- that’s not going to be his thing, or my thing, really -- but it’s just a presence, is the best way I can describe it," said Scuderi, himself a valuable element in that room.
It’s what makes this sport what it is, that a third-pairing defenseman and penalty killer matters so much.
"In the locker room, it starts in there with him," said Lewis. "He’s a very vocal guy. He’s a leader. A real leader. He makes sure everyone is going. He’s talking to everyone. And like you saw last night, a couple of big hits that really picked up our bench and got our energy going. We’re really happy to have him back."
Greene is a thorn to play against. He’s been in the face of every Sharks player since coming back in Game 4.
"I always say this about Greener, I loved when we traded for him because I hated playing against him," said captain Dustin Brown. "He's one of those guys that is a big part of our team, both physically or mentally."
With Willie Mitchell out all season, and Greene gone for most of it before now, the Kings were a bit of a juggling act on the back end, head coach Darryl Sutter having to try a few different things to patch it up.
"What Greene does for them is that he brings a balance to their three pairs," said a rival NHL scout on Friday. "Without Mitchell and Greene this year, they just weren’t the same at all. They added Regehr at the trade deadline and now Greene is back, it gives them similar balance to a year ago. It allows that team to settle down."
Sutter on Friday pointed to how important it is having an experienced, poised blueliner on each pairing in Regehr, Scuderi and Greene, which he said was similar to what San Jose has in Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Scott Hannan, Brad Stuart and Dan Boyle.
"It gives you some settle-down experience," said Sutter. "Even though they’re all different, it clearly gives you some composure."
Welcome back, Matt Greene.
9dScott Burnside and Craig Custance