Wednesday, December 7, 2005

When Shaone Morrisonn was told he and Ivan Majesky would be guarding Jaromir Jagr’s high-scoring New York Rangers line last week, it was exactly what the Washington Capitals defenseman wanted to hear.

Morrisonn didn’t have a horrible start to the season, but it wasn’t a great one either. He injured his groin, which allowed other defensemen to jump ahead of the 22-year-old in the pecking order. He wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence as he tried to get back in the lineup.

So the assignment to hold the former Caps star in check was sort of a final exam to see whether he had regained his form.

“I loved the way they played against Jag’s line,” Caps coach Glen Hanlon said yesterday. “They did a really good job for us. Normally we try to put bigger guys up against Jagr, but with the new rules we just needed somebody with a real good stick, and Mo did a good job, cutting off passes, poke-checking and things. [Jagr] was frustrated, very frustrated, so we know Mo did a good job.”

Morrisonn, who refers queries on the unusual spelling of his names to his parents, has had a frustrating career so far. He was a first-round pick in 2001 by Boston, which has had some success (Bobby Orr, Raymond Bourque) drafting defensemen. He shuttled back and forth between Boston and the minors during his first season, then the Bruins needed offense from the blue line for the playoffs. The Caps had Sergei Gonchar and wanted Morrisonn in exchange.

“We had a great team when I was up there [in Boston],” Morrisonn said. “Coming here I didn’t know the guys and struggled a bit. It was a totally different situation — one team was going to miss the playoffs, the other was on a playoff run. There was a different atmosphere, but I like it here now.”

His progression was interrupted by the lockout, a season during which nobody seemed to make much headway playing in the minors or in Europe. Training camp was a welcome relief this fall.

“Mo is a guy who feeds off confidence,” said assistant coach Dean Evason, who was Morrisonn’s coach for two years at Kamloops, British Columbia, in the Western Hockey League. “Like a lot of guys, he can get down on himself, but when he’s positive and thinking ‘compete,’ he’s a much better player. He’s gotten his competitive level up to NHL standards now, and that’s a credit to him.”

Morrisonn’s ice time started out at less than 10 minutes a game but now is up in the mid-20s with Brendan Witt and Jamie Heward, another indication the coaches have come to rely more on him.

“We think he’s been so assertive, using his speed, closing gaps defensively, getting up the ice quicker, just competing,” Evason said. “We can live with mistakes, but we want to see them compete every night. Mo has done that most nights, and he certainly had it going against Jags.”

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