Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Washington Capitals 2011-2012 Previews: Alexander Semin

Alexander Semin

Theme: “From caring comes courage.”
-- Lao Tzu







That qualifies as the quote version of a drive-away shooting. Former teammate Matt Bradley (now of the Florida Panthers) uttered those words on an Ottawa sports talk radio show last August. They elicited denials from the usual suspects – Semin’s agent, current Caps, management. They cut the fan base in two – those who see in Semin a uniquely talented player who is given little credit for the all around contributions he does make, and those who might have read Bradley’s comments and said, “see?...it isn’t just fans who think it.” For his part, Semin responded that “I don't pay absolutely any attention to [Bradley’s] words." The issue inspired its own Twitter topic of #sashacares.

Is there another player in the league who causes more people to go all Dr. Phil trying to figure out what makes him tick? What isn’t in question is the fact that Alexander Semin is one of the most gifted pure talents in the NHL. In almost 400 games in the NHL he has averaged 37 goals and 74 points per 82 games played. Not bad for someone who has received mostly second line minutes and is primarily a left winger playing a lot on the right side because a teammate is the best left wing in the league.

Here is a comparison for Caps fans. Semin has played in 392 regular season games so far in his NHL career and has 176 goals. After 392 games in his NHL career witht he Caps, Peter Bondra had 187 goals. And in his first five seasons covering 388 games, Mike Gartner had 184 goals for the Caps. Semin is in the neighborhood and plays in a much more defense-oriented era than did either Bondra or Gartner when they were embarking on their respective careers.

If anything has held Semin back from taking his place among the game’s stars, it has been his health. As we pointed out in another post, Semin has missed 65 games over the past four seasons. And as to the effect of these absences on his game, we had this to say about it when he was healthy…


“Semin played in what was arguably his healthiest stretch of hockey in a period covering 125 games from January 3, 2009 (game 40 of the 2008-2009 season) through the end of the 2009-2010 season. Semin played in 114 of 125 games (91 percent) over that period and went 60-71-131, plus-41 (a per-82 game pace of 43-51-94, plus-29).”

A healthy Semin is a dangerous one.

Fearless’ Take: Semin has led the Caps in 5-on-5 goals scored per 60 minutes in two of the past three years (behindthenet.ca). But Semin also had the second lowest 5-on-5 goals against/on ice per 60 minutes (1.73) of any Caps forward playing in at least 50 games last season. The 0.53 goals improvement from 2009-2010 might be attributed to the overall emphasis on defense in the 2010-2011 season, except that Semin improved his team ranking from eighth best among 10 forwards playing the entire year with the Caps to second. He is a better defensive player than he is given credit for being.

Cheerless’ Take: You wonder why I drink a lot, cuz? Maybe it’s from watching Alexander Semin in the playoffs. Consider this – in the first playoff series he every played he had points in five of the first six games against the Flyers, going 3-5-8, plus-2. In Game 7 he did not record a point; the Caps lost. The next series he played – against the Rangers – he was 5-3-8, plus-5, and had a goal in Game 7 that was overshadowed by Sergei Fedorov’s series-winner. But they don’t get to that point without Semin’s goal. He followed that up by going oh-fer in goals against the Penguins (0-6-6-, minus-6) in a seven-game loss, then did it again (0-2-2) the next season in a seven-game loss to Montreal. He was 3-1-4, plus-4 in a five-game win over the Rangers last spring, but was 1-1-2, minus-2 in the four game sweep at the hands of Tampa Bay. In three series in which the Caps won or at least performed admirably (we put the Flyer series in that category), Semin was 11-9-20, plus-11, in 19 games. In the other three series (all Caps losses in disappointing fashion), he was 1-9-10, minus-4, in 18 games.

The Big Question… Can Semin’s “game” match his “talent?”

That Semin has the talent to be an elite player is in little doubt. But for whatever reason – injury, poor timing, sunspots – he has found it difficult to be able to sustain a level of production commensurate with that talent over a long stretch of games. And the coincidence of his poor playoff performance coming in series that finished in especially disappointing fashion for the Caps has left him with a bulls eye on his back, whether it is fairly earned or not. In his career to date, the instances have been too infrequent, especially in the biggest games, where his “game” – is ability to dominate and determine an outcome – matched his “talent.”

In the end…

One could see Alexander Semin winning a Conn Smythe Trophy. One could also see him being shutout in goals in a series and the Caps slinking away once more from the post season. That is not an indictment of Semin’s ability or his capacity to care, but acknowledgment that the Caps are not likely to go deep into the post season unless he contributes in a consistent and reliable fashion. He is just one rung short of joining the top tier of players in the game, and 2011-2012 will be interesting to watch to see if Alexander Semin can take that last step up.

Projection: 72 games, 33-36-69, plus-18

(photo: The Washington Post)

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