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Morrison re-centers on Caps’ top line

- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 15, 2009

Brendan Morrison is scoring goals, but he wants to create more chances for his linemates.

His new gig Thursday night against San Jose should provide ample opportunity to ease his concerns. Morrison has spent the past two days centering the Washington Capitals' top line with Alex Ovechkin and Mike Knuble.

"You can't ask for anything else. If you're a centerman in this league and those two guys are your wingers, it is kind of like winning the lottery," Morrison said. "I'm just going to enjoy it."

Morrison signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Caps this summer, and he immediately became the leading candidate to be the team's No. 2 center behind Nicklas Backstrom. He spent the first six games of this season on that line, but in coach Bruce Boudreau's quest for scoring balance and chemistry, he has been bumped up to Ovechkin's unit.

Known as a setup man throughout his NHL career, Morrison had six straight seasons in Vancouver with at least 31 assists. He played on a similar line with the Canucks - a sublimely talented European guy on one side (Markus Naslund) and a gritty power forward on the other (Todd Bertuzzi).

In six games with the Caps, however, Morrison has three goals and only one assist.

"I'm a little surprised I haven't created more playmakingwise," Morrison said. "As far as the goals, they come and go. I've scored goals in my career. I can score, but I've always had the mentality of a pass-first player. Sometimes you get so focused on that you end up not making any plays, but then you shoot the puck more and it ends up opening up more space, and you can create more that way."

The Caps have had a dynamic duo on faceoffs with David Steckel and Boyd Gordon, but the addition of Morrison has given them a third go-to guy in the circle. Morrison has won 56.1 percent of his faceoffs, and he had been even better before going 7-for-14 on Monday against New Jersey.

His line also was on the ice for both goals against in a 3-2 shootout loss.

"I've always been the defensive guy on my line, but the last few days I've had some lapses that I need to correct," Morrison said. "I was really upset after the last game - I thought it was by far my worst. I've got to be consistent. That's been my biggest thing over the years."

Added Boudreau: "I think he's been pleasantly surprising. I don't think [Monday] was his best game, but he's been gaining my trust. He's gone from 13 minutes to 15 minutes to 16 minutes a game. If he can distribute the puck and use his speed with Alex [Ovechkin], hopefully that might work."

Consistency and durability have been hallmarks for Morrison... or at least they had been. From 2000-01 to 2006-07, Morrison played every game and registered between 51 and 71 points.

But two seasons ago he was limited to 39 games because of wrist surgery and torn knee ligaments. Last year he was healthy but failed to return to his previous production levels while splitting the year between Anaheim and Dallas.

"I think it tests your character a bit, but at the same time a big motivation for me this summer was coming back and proving that I can still play," Morrison said. "I think a lot of people were questioning that."