Theme: “All genius is a conquering of chaos and mystery.”
There is perhaps no more mysterious player in the NHL than Alexander Semin. A genius with the puck – shooting it or passing it – he is also perhaps the most confounding of Caps. 2009-2010 was Semin’s best year statistically, and it would have seemed to be the springboard to even bigger things, as the ten-game segments suggest…
After missing seven games with a wrist injury in late November, Semin closed the regular season by going 31-36-67, plus-35 in 55 games (a 48-56-104, plus-54 pace). And it didn’t stop there. For the season, for those wingers playing in at least 40 games, Semin finished at 5-on-5 (numbers from behindthenet.ca)…
-- Second in goals/60 minutes (1.71, to teammate Alex Ovechkin)
-- Third in points per 60 minutes (1.71, behind Ovechkin and Daniel Sedin)
-- Third in plus/minus per 60 minutes (behind Ovechkin and Sedin)
Semin also improved in his ability to protect the puck. His 0.79 giveaways per game was the best such value since the lockout and represented a 25 percent improvement over the 2008-2009 season. And, this was his second consecutive season in which takeaways outnumbered giveaways.
Semin had a spectacular record against Eastern Conference teams this season, going 33-35-68, plus 28 in 55 games (a 49-52-101, plus-42 pace). He hardly skipped a beat against teams that made the playoffs, too, going 14-16-30, plus-11 in 24 games (a 48-55-103, plus-36 pace).
Even the injury bug failed to pay Semin its usual frequent visits. He missed two games to illness and seven more to a wrist injury, but then played in the last 55 games of the year without incident. This after 11 separate occurrences over the previous three seasons in which Semin missed a total of 44 games to injury or illness.
And there was another aspect of Semin’s game that presented itself this season – penalty killer. On a team that had a generally weak penalty killing performance for the year, Semin took a semi-regular rotation among the forwards called upon to kill penalties (of Caps forwards spending the entire season with the club, Semin was seventh in average shorthanded ice time). And his goals against (on ice) per 60 minutes of 4-on-5 ice time was better than that of Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby, Henrik Zetterberg, Joe Thornton, and Patrick Sharp, to pick from among a number of forwards with roughly equivalent or more shorthanded ice time.
There is an aspect of Semin’s game, though, that is (and continues to be) disturbing. He took 33 minor penalties this season, most since he took 45 in the 2006-2007 season. It isn’t the “how many” as much as the “what,” however. Of those 33 minor infractions, 20 of them were for “obstruction” types of fouls (tripping, interference, holding, hooking). He had 22 such penalties last year (14 for hooking alone), 14 the previous year (13 for hooking). He also took 21 of his 33 minor penalties in the last 42 games of the season. Whether this is a product of a long season (fatigue, loss of focus) or just harebrained play is an open question.
The playoffs this year were, as any Cap fan knows (and still gnashes their teeth over), another frustrating story. The second round is almost over, and Semin remains ranked fifth in shots on goal (44). For all that apparent effort – no goals (and only two assists, while we’re counting). He had 24 of those shots on goal in the last three games of the Montreal series (nine of those shots coming on Capitals power plays, more than any Cap had in those games). If Semin had scored goals consistent with his shooting percentage for the season (14.4 percent), the six goals it would have meant over the series would have us not writing this just yet.
Alex Ovechkin gets the ink and pixels, Nicklas Backstrom is this year’s most known unknown player. But Alexander Semin is an elite offensive talent who has the capacity to be consistent 100-point scorer (over the last two seasons, that is the pace at which he has put up points). He also has the capacity to be a passable, if not above average two-way forward. But he has a penchant for taking the odd and seemingly lazy sort of penalty, and he need to establish himself as a player who can survive the grind of the NHL’s season without lapsing into periods of ill focus.
As for the playoff situation, not getting a goal in 44 shots is not necessarily symptomatic of his being a player who comes up short in the playoffs routinely – he did have eight goals and 14 assists in 21 playoff games over his previous two seasons. But his absence from the score sheet was keenly felt in this year’s post season.
Next year, Semin will be playing for what might be the biggest payday he will enjoy in his NHL career, as he embarks on a contract year (he is on a one-year deal for $6 million). If he does take his place among the elite, he could conceivably price himself out of a contract with the Caps after next season, but if it comes as the product of a big season and a Stanley Cup, all sides will likely be happy with the result. This year was a step toward that end, if an incomplete one.