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Caps play on without Ovechkin
With Alex Ovechkin on the mend, the Washington Capitals need several players to increase their production in order to supplement the offense.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a player in the dressing room capable of carrying the club alone, a la Ovechkin, in the two-time MVP’s absence. There is, and he uses the stall right next to Ovechkin’s and shares his first name.
Ovechkin’s recovery time from an upper-body strain presents a prime opportunity for “the other Alex” - Alexander Semin - to prove he can produce consistently and that he is worthy of a long-term contract at season’s end.
“I welcome [the extra pressure] because that means I will have more tests and probably more ice time,” Semin said through an interpreter. “I look forward to that. I would love to see Alex still playing, and it is unfortunate, but we have to deal with it. I will run with the situation that is presented.”
Semin long has been the Robin to Ovechkin’s Batman. Ovechkin is the alpha personality and owns whatever room he is in. Semin, on the other hand, doesn’t seek attention from the media, which allows him either to excel or struggle with less scrutiny.
But make no mistake: Semin is one of the most talented hockey players on the planet, and he is capable of being the go-to guy.
Whether he can carry the Capitals consistently when they need him - well, that remains to be seen.
“When he’s on his game, he can be [the man]. There is no question,” Brendan Morrison said. “His skill level is on par with Alex’s. It is a matter of putting it together every single night, but he has the tools to do that and the ability. It is an opportunity for him, as it is for some other guys.”
Morrison has been with the team for about two months, but that’s long enough to see what others have seen in the past four years. Semin is blessed with talent and skill few players possess. He dominates games on some nights - both offensively and defensively - like few other players can.
With Semin, there always is a “but.”
For all his talent, Semin doesn’t produce at an elite level consistently. He has physical abilities (size, strength, speed) other players dream of, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy.
“It is a matter of consistency, and obviously [Ovechkin] does it night in and night out,” Morrison said. “That’s kind of the secret, though. If more guys could do it night in and night out, there would be more guys in [Ovechkin’s] category. You can’t teach that. It is just something you have within. Hopefully, we can find it from some guys here.”
Semin proved at the beginning of last season that he can play with the league’s elite. While Ovechkin slumped at the start of the year because of his ailing grandfather in Russia, Semin dazzled.
After a five-point night Nov. 12 at Carolina, he led the NHL in goals (13) and points (27). Stories about “the other Alex” in the District began to appear. Then he missed eight games in November with an upper-body injury. And 10 games in December with a back injury.
All told, Semin missed 20 games last season and 19 the year before. He sat out two earlier this season.
Now, with his best friend listed as “week-to-week” with an injury of his own, the Caps could use the “good” Semin - the one who had nine points in the first four games this year. They need consistency in effort and production.
“It is something we talk about quite a bit,” captain Chris Clark said when asked whether he will talk to Semin about the team needing him every night. “But he is the type of player who can change a game within a shift.
“I think everybody knows how good he is. Now maybe other teams will be focusing on him a little bit more, trying to take him away on the power play or stuff like that. I think it will be a good chance for him to show he can power through other team’s top lines all the time and the focus they put on him.”
Semin becomes a restricted free agent after this season. He is a key figure on this team, and few other clubs possess a “secondary” weapon like him. Caps coach Bruce Boudreau can put him on Ovechkin’s line to form a super-unit or on the second line and force teams to pick.
But will he remain a key figure for years to come? General manager George McPhee faces a difficult task in fitting a long-term contract for Semin under the salary cap - especially if he wants a significant raise from the $5 million he is making this season.
That’s why the absence of Ovechkin offers a chance for Semin to prove he deserves a lucrative extension.
“I think it is a good opportunity for [Semin], and it is for me as well, to show we can play without [Ovechkin],” said Nicklas Backstrom, who also becomes a restricted free agent after this year. “I think the whole season is important, but this could be important to just to show that we’re not just out there with Alex - not that we don’t enjoy playing with him. It is going to be a challenge for us.”
About the Author
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