Theme: “За одного́ би́того двух неби́тых дают (loosely translated... “experience is worth it”).”
-- Russian proverb
The literal translation of the saying above is, “a beaten one is worth two unbeaten ones.”* Well, Alexander Semin took something of a beating in the press after last spring’s seven-game loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs. After finishing the regular season with career highs in total goals (40), even strength goals (30), shorthanded goals (two), road goals (17), and home goals (ok, his 23 was one short of his career best), he couldn’t get ANY goals against the Canadiens in seven games last spring.
I wasn’t for lack of trying. He had 44 shots on goal in that series, a total that still had him ranked 25th in shots on goal at the end of the playoffs, despite playing only those seven games. How deep was the frustration? The next highest shot total for the playoffs for any player failing to score at least one goal was that of Phoenix’ Martin Hanzal (29). Of 72 players recording at least 25 shots in the playoffs last season, only three (Philadelphia’s Darroll Powe being the other) failed to record a goal.
That playoff record left a rather impressive regular season largely forgotten. In 73 games, Semin finished 40-44-84 (his career high in points), plus-36 (another career best), had 278 shots on goal (yup, career high), was second on the club in takeaways, and was one of three Caps (Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom being the others) to record more than one Gimmick goal.
Going into last season Semin padded his goal totals at the expense of the weak sisters of the Southeast Division. 52 of the 108 career goals he recorded entering last season came against Atlanta (10), Carolina (19), Florida (10), and Tampa Bay (13). OK, so 12 of his 40 last season came at their expense once more. But against the other seven clubs in the East that made the playoffs, Semin was rather stout in his production. In 24 games against those seven clubs he was 14-16-20, plus-11.
He did, however, like the friendly confines of Verizon Center. On home ice he played at better than a 100-point pace (23-28-51 in 39 games). It is not exactly unusual for Semin, having scored more at home than on the road in each of the past four seasons (and at a 45-43-88 per-82 game pace).
And that is what makes last spring’s drought so confounding… or does it? Semin has played in 28 playoff games over the past three seasons, compiling a record of 8-16-24, plus-1, and 114 shots on goal. 16 of those games were played at Verizon Center, in which he has a record of 4-5-9, plus-2, and 68 shots on goal. The home scoring line isn’t especially impressive, but the problem is what he has done lately. In his last eight playoff games at Verizon Center he has no goals, three assists, and 36 shots on goal. He has not recorded a playoff goal anywhere since scoring a first period goal in Game 7 of the opening round playoff series against the New York Rangers in 2009. That is a run of 14-plus games and 64 shots on goal since that strike against the Rangers.
Fearless: 26, 34, and 40 goals the last three seasons. 42, 79, and 84 points. Minus-18, plus-25, plus-36. 185, 223, and 278 shots on goal. Being a little hard, aren’t you, cousin?
Cheerless: Three goals in seven games, five goals in 14 games, no goals in seven games. Eight, 14, and two points. And that’s with 28, 42, and 44 shots on goal. Those are his three playoff season records, cuz.
In the end…
That Alexander Semin is an enigma is not exactly news. Who knows what color the sky is in his world? But he is 26 years old and will be starting his sixth full season with the club this month. Did we mention he is being paid $6 million this season? That is not a sum for a player whose productive portion of the season is expected to end in the first week of April. Production in May and June is what will justify that kind of sum this year and, perhaps as important, what Semin will command as he becomes an unrestricted free agent after this season.
And that presents a problem for management. Semin’s contributions in the post season are going to be essential if the Caps are to make a deep playoff run. If he does make those contributions, does he price himself past the Caps’ affordability threshold? Or would Semin be content to leave some money on the table to take on the lesser responsibilities or pressure that come with playing alongside Alex Ovechkin?
Semin is among the top-half dozen pure talents in the league as an offensive player. But he has quietly expanded his comfort zone to accommodate other responsibilities. For example, last season seven players (including Semin) recorded at least 40 goals. Semin had more average shorthanded ice time than five of them (only Steven Stamkos and Patrick Marleau skated more). He had more than Marian Gaborik and more than Ilya Kovalchuk, neither of whom could be thought of as penalty-killers, but he also had more than teammate Alex Ovechkin and his nemesis, Sidney Crosby.
With five seasons and 327 games on his resume, Alexander Semin is hitting his prime at the age of 26. In that time he has enjoyed considerable regular season success, but he has come up increasingly short in the playoffs. Hopefully, the experience of those four series (three of them losses for the Caps) will have been worth it in terms of more maturity and more resolve when the stakes are higher. Having taken the beatings of an empty resume in his last two playoff series, we can only hope so.
72 games, 40-45, 85, +32
* At least if the folks at masterrussian.com know their stuff; my apologies to our Russian-speaking readers for any errors.