Semin, His Penalties, and What Next?

Posted November 13, 2011

Photo by Alena Schwarz

Ask any Capitals fan if, after 15 games, they’d take a 10-4-1 record, be atop of the Southeast Division, and have one of the highest goal differentials in the league, and most would be jumping on that wagon and would ride it right through the rest of the season. What has become so disheartening is the way the Caps have played some nights. There’s been lackluster defense, offensive hiccups, and poor goaltender play. But the one player that has made most fans want to blow a gasket has been, once again, Alexander Semin.

So far this season, Semin has 22 PIM. That doesn’t seem so bad (it doesn’t even crack the top 30 in the NHL), however his 11 minor penalties ties him for 3rd in the league for the most amount of minor penalties taken so far this season. However, the Capitals have played mostly disciplined hockey, as their 9.8 PIM/G is the 3rd fewest in the NHL this season (and yes, I am fully aware that a huge reason for that is because the Capitals don’t fight that often). I gathered some data about what penalties Semin has been called for, and the frequency of these penalties, including Saturday night’s game against the Devils. Here are the results:

Type of Penalty Called Frequency
Boarding I
Hooking IIII
Tripping IIII
High-Sticking I
Diving I

It shouldn’t be a shock that Semin gets assessed stick penalties more frequently than others – that’s well known. The bigger problem is the timing (note: Semin is currently in his 2nd 4-game streak where he’s been called for at least one penalty per game). Let me refresh you on a few of them:

  • Against Carolina (opening night)- Was called for a 2-minute minor boarding penalty at the end of the third period. This left the Capitals to start overtime with the penalty kill
  • Against Tampa Bay- Was called for a hooking penalty at 2:04 in the overtime to negate a Capitals power play from a Marc-Andre Bergeron trip at 1:02 of the overtime period.
  • Against Philadelphia- Was assessed a diving penalty at 1:49 of the first period, negating a power play from a Danny Briere hook.
  • Against New Jersey (Saturday night)- Was assessed a tripping penalty at 3:06 of the first period to negate a power play from a Johan Hedburg delay-of-game penalty that was served by Nick Palmieri.

Okay, so we’ve covered Semin’s penalty blights this season. His production on the ice hasn’t been great either. He ranks 16th on the team for on-ice Corsi with 2.46 (meaning the Capitals take roughly 2.5 more shots while he’s on the ice than their opponents). This is while his offensive zone start percentage is 53.8%.

So what does that mean? It means that while Semin starts his shift in the opponent’s zone, the Capitals have trouble maintaining possession of the puck while he’s on the ice. His ATOI/60 is only 13:01, so it’s not like Semin is seeing a lot of ice time (see: Friday night in New Jersey). The one positive to take away from this is that his QUALCOMP rating (which is the average relative plus-minus of his opponents, weighted by head-to-head ice time) is 0.050, which ranks him second on the team.

Now the question remains: What should the Capitals do with Alex Semin?

Since this past offseason, there has been a lot of talk about Bruce Boudreau and “accountability.” It’s been a word that’s been thrown around a lot. We saw it when Boudreau decided to bench Ovechkin at the end of the third period against Anaheim. We saw it Friday night when Semin took a hooking penalty at the end of the first period and was on the ice for a whopping 8:25. An article written by Adam Vingan of Kings of Leonsis suggests that Boudreau’s call for accountability may be too late, I feel there is still time. The first thing that needs to be done is truly hold Semin accountable for his actions, and you make him a healthy scratch. Make him sit in the press box for a night. Maybe, just maybe, that will be the slap across the face he needs. Boudreau was quoted as saying that he needs Semin on this team. Fine, but you scratch him a game. A hockey season is a marathon, not a race. One game won’t harm anyone. Best case scenario? He turns a new corner and plays to his capacity and the way we all know he can.

But what if he doesn’t?

Then the Capitals need to truly need to reassess their relationship with Semin and see if having him on the team is the direction they want to go, and they need to figure it out sooner than later. He becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, and there’s no way that the Capitals can let him walk without getting someone of value for him. Who that person is remains to be seen. But this situation is more serious than it seems on the surface. I hope Semin can turn this around and be the player that Caps fans know he can be.

Not just for the Caps fans, but for his future in Washington as well.