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Healthy Morrison a Capital asset

by John McGourty /

"I went through a real good stretch there where I didn't miss a game, over 500 games, and then I had a series of four surgeries over three years. It started with my hip and my abdomen and then I came back and hurt my knee and wrist in the same year."
-- Brendan Morrison

The NHL's feel-good story of the season has been Brendan Morrison's return to health, and subsequently, prominence this season with the Washington Capitals.

Morrison has 9 goals and 13 assists in 28 games and is plus-11. He's been centering the second line and has played with most of Washington's explosive offensive players, including Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, but mostly with Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr and Mike Knuble.

Earlier this decade, Morrison, 34, centered one the NHL's top lines, with Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi in Vancouver, while gutting his way through the 11th-longest consecutive-games-played streak in NHL history, 542 games, until Dec. 12, 2007, when he sat out with a wrist problem.

Morrison played only 39 games that season and signed as a free agent last season with the Anaheim Ducks. But he was a shadow of his former self, recording 10 goals and 12 assists in 62 games before he was waived. The Dallas Stars picked him up and he added 6 goals and 9 points in 19 games.

"I went through a real good stretch there where I didn't miss a game, over 500 games, and then I had a series of four surgeries over three years," Morrison explained. "It started with my hip and my abdomen and then I came back and hurt my knee and wrist in the same year.

"I didn't feel good at all last year. My legs just weren't there and I wasn't able to train properly during the summer. The repair was OK in my knee, but the leg strength as far as my quads and any type of explosiveness and getting to spots on the ice just wasn't there. Then it became a mental battle. Not just physical, but sort of mentally questioning myself.

"It was a tough year. I was put on waivers and got picked up by Dallas. Getting waived was the low point of my career. Once I got to Dallas, I felt that my legs were starting to turn around. I started to score a bit again there, so heading into the summer I felt like if I put in the work and the time I could get my game back to where I felt it should be and that's kind of what's happened so far.

"This summer, I wasn't rehabbing for the first time in three years and I was able to train properly. I had a lot of motivation all summer and the big thing was wanting to prove people wrong, prove to people and to myself that I can get back to being a guy that can be relied upon night in and night out for whichever team I went to."

Morrison is in awe of Ovechkin's skills and determination. They've only played on a line in two games, but it was eye-opening, Morrison said.

"I get him the puck as much as possible because this guy can make something happen out of nothing," Morrison said. "He's one of the rare guys who can do that. He's a little different in a sense that a lot of times when you move the puck to guys you want to get over and support them and give them an out, whereas with him, you kind of leave him. You give him a space because he can beat guys one on one.

"He's going to manufacture a shot every time. So, you want to go to the net and sniff around for rebounds, or if he does need an out, be available. But, you're not right on top of him. You want to give him a space so he can create."

Morrison said Ovechkin's will to win exceeds his physical gifts.

"He's passionate. He's got a will and a drive inside him that supercedes almost all the players in the game. He's got a special talent," Morrison said.

As for Semin, Morrison was asked if his skills might someday approach Fedorov's.

"I think if you look purely at his skill set, he might be more talented than 'Ovi," pure skill," Morrison said. "You can always see those other intangibles that 'Ovi' has that Semin doesn't have and maybe he can develop them a bit. But, pure skills, he's the most talented guy I've ever skated with."

Morrison said that even though Nicklas Backstrom has only been in the NHL for three seasons, he was well aware of him years earlier.

"I played with Daniel and Henrik Sedin in Vancouver and, being from Sweden, they talked about Backstrom as a young kid coming up," Morrison recalled. "But when you get to play with him every day, you get to appreciate guys more and he's one of those guys. He's put up numbers the last couple of years. But, just to see how calm he is on the ice, he's got a real ability to hold onto the puck until the right time to make the play. A lot of guys will get the puck and move it right away, whereas, if you can buy that extra half a second that you need where another guy can get open and you can get the puck to the guy when he's in the perfect scoring position."

Capitals General Manager George McPhee had to replace two departing forwards, Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov, so he signed Morrison and Knuble, another Michigan alum. Now,

Morrison is playing with two of the stronger wingers Knuble and Brooks Laich.

"Those two are guys that aren't afraid to get in and muck it up and get pucks," Morrison said. "When we get together that's what we try to do. We try to grind, well, those guys grind, I don't know if I grind that much. I just try to get an opening for those guys. I tell them, 'You guys just get me the puck.' I want to give it back to them. We'll move it down low and go to the net. We'll create things that way. They're both very smart players. They both can score. They both think the game well so it's an easy transition playing with those guys.

"Mike and I were linemates for two years at Michigan," Morrison continued. "So, I was familiar with Mike through college and then during the lockout, we went over and played together in Sweden. We have a good relationship and we do have the same agent so I know that Washington was a team he was looking at as well. He signed on July 1 so I knew he would be here. So, that was factored in as well, having a familiar face on a team that you're going to.

"We talked to a couple of teams but as soon as I found out Washington was interested in me, I wanted to get something done there. I liked their team."

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