Wednesday, June 06, 2012

2011-2012 By the Tens -- Forwards: Alexander Semin

Alexander Semin

Theme: “Can you imagine what I would do if I could do all I can?”
--Sun Tzu

(click pic for larger image)

In five seasons he played since the lockout before this season, Alexander Semin scored goals at a rate of 40 per 82 games played. Of the 166 goals he scored in those five seasons, 49 of them were power play goals; 25 of them were game-winners. He even had three shorthanded goals. He had six hat tricks, four of them coming last season. Remarkably, only three of his 166 goals scored in these five seasons were of the empty net variety. Alexander Semin might be in the top-five in the entire league as a pure goal scorer.

So what was up with this season?

The 21 goals with which Alexander Semin finished the 2011-2012 season represented his lowest total for a full season in his seven-year career (he had 10 in 52 games in his rookie season of 2003-2004). It was not as if he was fighting through obvious injury. He had two short stints on the bench this season – one for an arm injury, the other for a shoulder injury.

It was not as if he had one prolonged slump that sabotaged his season. If you look at his ten-game segments, only once did he score at that “40-goal” pace that had characterized his post-lockout performance to date (the fourth segment in which he had five goals in nine games).

What was happening was he was falling off in accuracy. In the five seasons preceding this one, Semin was reliable in his shooting percentage, finishing his seasons in a tight range of 14.1 to 15.6 percent (14.8 percent average over the five seasons). But in 2011-2012 Semin finished at 11.5 percent. Couple that with the fact that his 183 shots on goal was his lowest total for a season for the lockout, and you get 21 goals.

What killed Semin’s season, goal-scoring-wise, was a brutal start. Remember that last season Semin had 18 goals in his first 25 games. In 2009-2010 he had 11 goals in his first 19 games. In 2008-2009 he had 14 goals in his first 18 games. See a pattern?

This season, Semin had five goals in his first 27 games. It is worth noting that all five of them came while Bruce Boudreau was still behind the bench. Semin stumbled out of the gate when Dale Hunter took over, going without a goal over his first six games under the new coach. But he did rebound to a point. His 16 goals in his last 50 games was an improvement, but a 26-goal pace over 82 games was a far cry from his production over the previous five seasons.

Looking at Semin’s underlying numbers, you scratch your head a little harder. Among Capital forwards playing at 5-on-5 and in a minimum of 20 games, Semin was third in raw Corsi value (tops among top-six forwards), fifth in on-ice save percentage, sixth in PDO (second among top-six forwards to Marcus Johansson), sixth in offensive zone starts, and he was in the lower half in quality of competition faced. These numbers juxtaposed against his production suggests he was too often a passenger at 5-on-5.

And then there is this frustrating slice of information. It will come as no surprise that Semin led the team in penalties taken per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (actually, tied with Jay Beagle). He led the team in 2010-2011. He tied for the team lead in 2009-2010. Here is how other numbers compare, this year to last:

Odd Semin Fact… Semin had three goals in four regular season games against the Rangers, none in seven games of the second round of the playoffs.

Game to Remember... December 28, 2011. The Capitals were coming off three losses in four games when they hosted the New York Rangers in late December. The Rangers, on the other hand, were on a five-game winning streak. The Caps and Rangers exchanged goals in the first period, and Troy Brouwer gave the Caps a lead in the second. Then, Semin put an end to the competitive portion of the contest. He scored just 2:38 after the Brouwer goal when Nicklas Backstrom fed him at the Ranger blue line on a breakaway to give the Caps a 3-1 lead. He iced it with 2:35 left in the game when he converted a cross-ice feed from Alex Ovechkin and wristed the puck under the crossbar for a 4-1 lead that would be the final score. It would be his only multi-goal game of the season.

Game to Forget… November 11, 2011. Coming off a pair of ugly losses (a 5-3 loss to the Islanders and a 5-2 thumping by the Dallas Stars) the Caps were hosting the Devils on Veterans Day. Alexander Semin put the Caps in a bind early, taking an offensive zone hooking penalty 10:49 into the game. The Devils would not convert on the power play, but they would score just 17 seconds after the penalty expired, Semin among the Capitals on-ice for the score. It wasn’t as if he was all that engaged in the offensive end, either. He would record no shot attempts on any of his first 11 shifts of the game. And 11 shifts was all he would get. Bruce Boudreau benched him for the final 24:19 of what would be a 3-1 comeback win for the Caps.

Post-Season… In what has become a recurring theme in Semin’s career, he had a good first round (three goals in the seven-game series against the Boston Bruins) and a poor second round (one point – an assist – against the Rangers). It looked a lot like last season’s (3-1-4 in a five-game first round, 1-1-2 in a four-game sweep in the second). Or 2009 (five goals in the first round, none in the second). In the three seasons in which he participated in two playoff rounds, Semin is 11-4-15, plus-6 in 19 first round games, 1-8-9, minus-9 in 18 second round games.

In the end… Same ol’, same ol’. Alexander Semin is one of the most gifted talents in the league. He can – and has – put up big numbers from time to time during the regular season. But he fades at inopportune times, most notably in the playoffs as the Caps advance. There are times when he laps the field in terms of his ability to dominate play with a variety of skills – stickhandling, passing, shooting. And he remains an underrated defensive player. But those sublime occurrences do not happen frequently enough or last long enough. He is a fantasy player’s dream. But he is not the force he can be or needs to be often enough when the stakes are higher on the ice.  We are left once more to imagine what he would do when he could do all he can.

Grade: C

2011-2012 By the Tens -- Forwards: Mathieu Perreault

Mathieu Perreault

Theme: “Hope is patience with the lamp lit.”
-- Tertullian

(click pic for larger image)

As the 2011-2012 season approached, Mathieu Perreault was approaching a crossroads. At the age of 23 he already demonstrated a scoring touch in Canadian junior hockey – a pair of 110-point seasons. He also displayed an ability to score in the AHL with 135 points in 167 games over three seasons at Hershey.

However, in two partial seasons with the Capitals Perreault showed an ability to score when called up, but faded as his stint lengthened. As training camp approached, questions remained as to his sturdiness to withstand the physical grind of the NHL and his ability to sustain a level of production expected of a scoring forward. Put another way, he was entering that realm of being considered a fine AHL player, but not quite having what it takes to take that talent to the next level.

Perreault had a fine pre-season, going 3-2-5, and cementing a place on the opening night roster. Getting off to a good start did not hurt, either. He played in five of the first seven games of the season and was 3-2-5, plus-6. But Caps fans have seen this movie before, too. A hot start followed by a decline in production. That is just what happened. After his five-game start, Perreault was in and out of the lineup, playing in only 18 of the next 27 games and going 0-2-2, minus-7 in the process. At the end of that stretch of games he went out of the lineup with an upper-body injury and missed four games.

He returned to the lineup on January 7th, but it was a return to more of the same. Playing in five of the next eight games, he was 1-0-1, plus-1. He was not making much of an impression. He had played in only 28 games of 46 games through January 20th and was 4-4-8, even.

Sometimes, though, things change and for reasons you cannot see at the time. Change for Mathieu Perreault in this season came in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on January 22nd. In that game Perreault recorded two assists – three months to the day since his last multi-point game – and was a plus-2 with two hits. From that game forward Perreault would get a sweater in each of the remaining 36 games of the regular season and would go 12-10-22, plus-9 in the process, an 82-game pace of 27-23-50, plus-21.

The summary statistic that jumps off the page when considering Perreault is his shooting percentage. He converted 16 of 60 shots taken for the season – a 26.7 percent efficiency rate that easily would have topped the league (Curtis Glencross had a 23.6 percent mark), had Perreault enough shots to qualify. But averaging less than a shot per game (60 shots on goal in 64 games played), he did not. And that is a somewhat surprising result given that Perreault’s raw Corsi value(a function of shots directed on net, for and against) at 5-on-5 is best among all Capital forwards.

Speaking of underlying numbers, that shooting percentage went a long way toward finishing the season with the fourth best PDO value at 5-on-5 among the 15 Capital forwards playing at least 20 games (the team shooting percentage portion of that value was 11.27 percent, tops in the forward group). Conversely, however, the on-ice save percentage portion of that PDO value was, well, not as good. At .909, Perreault’s value was 13th among 15 Capital forwards.

Fortunately, Perreault enjoyed the third highest share of offensive zone starts among these forwards at 5-on-5 and improved on that with an even higher share of offensive zone finishes, finishing tied with Nicklas Backstrom for second among these forwards (a +0.2 percent change over zone starts). Then again, only Mike Knuble and Cody Eakin skated against lesser competition than did Perreault, and only Jason Chimera skated with a higher quality of teammates. Perreault was the beneficiary of advantageous management. Here is how his numbers compare with last season:

Odd Perreault Fact… Mathieu Perreault has scored 27 goals on 128 shots in his brief career (and has improved his shooting percentage in each of his three seasons). It took Alex Ovechkin 202 shots for him to reach the 27-goal mark for his career.

Game to Remember… January 24, 2012. No Nicklas Backstrom. No Alex Ovechkin. The defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins are coming to town riding a 31-14-2 record. Hopeless, right? And it didn’t start well when Rich Peverley opened the scoring late in the first period. The Caps got even with a goal by Cody Eakin 2:14 into the second period. Then, it was The Mathieu Perreault Show. First, Perreault scored 41 seconds after Eakin’s goal to give the Caps a 2-1 lead. After Tyler Seguin tied the game once more mid-way through the period, Perreault scored 2:02 later. Brad Marchand scored for the Bruins to get the teams even a third time late in the second period, but Perreault took back the lead 7:18 into the final frame for his first hat trick and his first three-point game of his career. Dennis Wideman added an empty-net goal to complete the Caps’ 5-3 win.

Game to Forget… November 5, 2011. Things started well for the Caps on their visit to Long Island – they took a 2-0 lead on the New York Islanders into the first intermission. Unfortunately for the Caps there was a second period. The Islanders scored two goals of their own to tie the game at the second intermission. The hosts took the lead 6:28 into the third period for their third unanswered goal. The three goals were scored by three different players, and six different Islanders shared in the points. But Mathieu Perreault saw them all up close and personal from his perch on the ice. The Islanders would go on to win, 5-3.

Post-Season… It did not last long for Mathieu Perreault, who managed to play in only Games 1-4 of the opening round series against Boston, recording a total of only 42:50 in ice time. Even with that meager level of participation, he had a total of only one shot on goal. Was he injured? Pushed back on the depth chart? It was a mystery. One thing is for sure, the Caps could have used his ability to make something out of few shots on goal.

In the end… It is hard to find fault with Perreault’s success on the offensive side of the ledger this season. Getting 16 goals out of him – tied for fifth on the team – had to qualify as one of, if not the most pleasant surprise of the regular season. He even tried, at least on occasion (and with limited success) to add a physical dimension. He had 49 hits in 64 games (approximately equal to the frequency with which Marcus Johansson recorded hits). And he was not an entirely incompetent defensive player. With 31 goals scored against the Caps with Perreault on ice, the 0.48 goals against per game was better than Nicklas Backstrom, better than Jason Chimera, better than Brooks Laich, although once again, Perreault did not suffer having to play against top-flight competition. All in all, though, the patience the club had with him as he climbed through the system was rewarded, at least for this season. If provides a sense of hope for what comes next season.

Grade: A-