Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison were the two significant offseason additions for the Washington Capitals, and to this point their offensive production has met - and maybe even exceeded - expectations.

Knuble is on pace for 68 points (which would be a career high) and leads the team with a plus-12 rating, while Morrison actually has one more goal (six) than his former teammate at Michigan and has made last year’s 31-point effort look like an anomaly in an otherwise successful career.

They have made the Caps deeper and more formidable on offense - but that’s only a portion of why they have been such valuable additions. Knuble and Morrison have proved to be just as important commodities off the ice.

“I think they are doing a great job. A lot of the behind the scenes stuff that people don’t get to see are things that they excel at,” Brian Pothier said. “They’ve given the team a little more of an identity and confidence. They insert the right amount of wisdom at the right times. On the ice, I think their play has spoken for itself.”

Washington general manager George McPhee had to replace a pair of top-six forwards this offseason in Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov. Both were solid offensive contributors when healthy, and Fedorov was credited as a significant member of the team’s core leaders and mentor for the younger Russian players.

Not only does it appear McPhee has replaced them, it looks like he found upgrades at a cheaper cost. Knuble and Morrison will combine to make $4.3 million this season, $300,000 less than Fedorov alone and $2.5 million below what the two Russians set the club back last season.

“They are guys that younger guys are going to follow because they do the right things at the right time,” captain Chris Clark said. “They’ll say things at the right time. They’re here early, and they leave late. They do everything you want from your veteran guys.

“You can’t always see that on the ice, and sometimes I don’t think GMs see that when they bring guys in, but I think George and some of our scouts knew these guys’ intangibles coming in, and they picked not only the right guys on the ice, but they picked the right people and the right personalities for our team.”

What makes the off-ice impact Knuble and Morrison have had even more impressive is the stability of the team’s roster in recent years. They were the only significant additions this offseason to a group that has been together for a few years, but Knuble and Morrison have aced their crash course on Caps chemistry.

“It is actually remarkable,” David Steckel said. “Usually when you go into a situation where you’re the new guy and there are 20-some other guys who have been there for three years and know all the inside jokes, it can be pretty tough. But they’ve acclimated themselves pretty well.”

With Alex Ovechkin out of the lineup, the Caps knew they would have to lean on their depth at forward. Because Alexander Semin has been held pointless in the three games without Ovechkin, it has been an even bigger need.

Having training camp and the first 14 games of the season to prove themselves was important for Knuble and Morrison. When the prognosis of Ovechkin’s injury became clearer, the other players on the team had seen enough to know they were two guys to count on in these adverse times.

“I think you have to get a feel for the group at first, to kind of see how they react to certain situations,” Morrison said. “There are times when you need to pat a guy on the back and times when you need to kick a guy in the butt. It is a bit of a feeling-out process, and I think anytime you come to a new team you don’t want to come in and assert yourself right away. You have to respect what these guys have done the past few years.”

After the team bombed against New Jersey in their first game without Ovechkin, coach Bruce Boudreau called out several of his top players, including Knuble and Morrison. Each had taken a bad penalty in the third period - Knuble in the game before against Columbus and Morrison against the Devils.

Morrison responded with two goals in a 4-1 win Friday against Florida, and Knuble registered a four-point effort the next night in a 7-4 victory against the Panthers.

“You come in and it is more about what you do on the ice,” Knuble said. “You’ve got to gain the respect of your teammates on the ice with what you’re doing - being responsible, being good defensively - doing little things to help the team win.”

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