Theme: “I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.”
After almost 400 regular season games and another three dozen or so playoff games in the NHL, if you have Alexander Semin figured out, we doff our cap to you. Semin might not be the most enigmatic of players ever to play in the NHL, but he’s on a short list. Few players have been described in the contemporary game of hockey as having more skill than Semin, but by the same token, few players with that skill set have seemed to have such an air of mystery surrounding that skill.
This year was a new chapter in Semin’s book of work, and it might be titled, “Before and After.” Thanksgiving weekend, that is. Semin’s season breaks down all too cleanly into his production before Thanksgiving weekend and his production after:
Through November 28th, Semin had the kind of production from which Hart Trophies might be built. He was on a pace to go 59-39-98, plus-26. He recorded three hat tricks. He had seven multi-point games, including a five-point game.
Then came December. Starting with the December 1st game against St. Louis, Semin would go more than two months until his next goal (perhaps fittingly, given his mercurial ways in his performance, he had a hat trick when he broke the streak). He played in only 17 of 32 games between those goal-scoring performances, missing three games to the flu and a dozen more to a hip injury. He recorded a grand total of two power play points in those 17 games, both assists.
And it was not as if the rest of his season was especially productive. Starting with the game in which he broke his goal-scoring drought with a hat trick against Anaheim, he played in 23 of the last 25 games, going 10-8-18. He was a plus-14, so good things were happening when he was on the ice, a fact that should not be discounted. In all, his ten-game splits look like this:
The result was that Semin was down in every category worth noting for the season from the numbers he posted in 2009-2010. His goals scored were close to a career low in terms of goals scored per game. His point total was the second lowest for a full season in his career. His power play points dropped by a third, a result exacerbated by the fact that he did not record a power play goal after November 26th. The season to season changes look like this:
But true to his enigmatic style, there were teasers in Semin’s game. He had by far the best goals for/on ice per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (3.32) among Caps forwards playing in at least 20 games (numbers from behindthenet.ca). His plus/minus-on ice per 60 minutes (1.59) was, again, by far the best among Caps forwards. His differential between plus/minus on ice and plus/minus off ice per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (+1.86) was more than half a goal better than the next best Caps forward, Nicklas Bacxkstrom (+1.33). He was on ice for the sixth fewest number of goals against of any Caps forward playing in at least 20 games and who was with the club all season, although he did not generally face the stiffest of competition (tied for third lowest among Caps forwards playing in at least 20 games). It was an odd season, to say the least.
Odd Semin Fact…The Caps were 19-0-1 in games in which Semin scored a goal. In the 25 losses in which he played, Semin recorded only one goal.
Game to Remember… November 11, 2010. Semin was relatively quiet over the first two periods of a Veterans Day contest with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He had an assist on the Caps’ first goal as the Caps took a 2-1 lead into the second intermission. But after Ryan Malone tied the game for the Lightning early in the third, Semin took off. He answered Malone’s goal less than two minutes later with a power play goal, then scored again at the 10:46 mark to give the Caps a 4-2 lead. After Tampa Bay tightened things up less than two minutes after Semin’s second goal, he assisted on a goal by Alex Ovechkin with less than five minutes remaining. He capped the night with an empty net goal to finish the hat trick, chipped in three takeaways, and recorded a five-point game, his second as a Cap.
Game to Forget… December 11, 2010. OK, so your team is on a four game losing streak. You’re going into your next game having had five players miss the last practice with the flu. On top of that, you’re missing teammates and defensemen Mike Green and Jeff Schultz. So what do you do? Well, after your team falls behind, 2-1, at the first intermission, you come out and take a cross-checking major and a game misconduct six minutes into the second period. The opponent cashes in for an insurance goal that ended up being the game winner when the Caps made things close in a 3-2 loss to Colorado. Your night ends with ten shifts, eight minutes and change of ice time, and no points. It was an outcome made worse by coming out in the next game and recording only one shot on goal, while being on the ice for three against in a 7-0 loss to the New York Rangers.
Post Season… Another season in a nutshell. Semin came out like gangbusters with four goals on 22 shots in his first six playoff games, a far cry from his no goals on 44 shots in the seven game playoff series against Montreal in 2010. But in his last three games, no goals on six shots as the Caps went quick and quiet to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Round 2.
In the end, there is probably no subject in Caps Nation that gets more thought than what to make of Alexander Semin. Talent? As much as just about anyone in the NHL. Production? He is capable of lighting up the scoreboard like a pinball machine? Will he make you want to rip your hair out? More often than not as his episodes of highlight reel play are interspersed with stretches of inconsistency or invisibility.
For a couple of moments over the last few years, one got a peek of what Semin could do alongside a player who could inspire him to a little more consistency. Such was the case with Sergei Fedorov in 2008 and with Jason Arnott in 2011. But those episodes seem too fleeting, Semin’s performance otherwise characterized by high highs and low lows, of big starts and iffy finishes. Maybe the problem is with us as Caps fans, in our own mad attempts to interpret these episodes as though they had an underlying truth, when the truth might just be as simple as this is who he is, for better or worse.