Semin back in Hunter's doghouse

Washington Capitals' Alexander Semin celebrates after scoring against the Boston Bruins during the...

Washington Capitals' Alexander Semin celebrates after scoring against the Boston Bruins during the second period in Game 5 of their NHL Eastern Conference quarterfinal hockey playoff series in Boston, Massachusetts April 21, 2012. (REUTERS)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 6:06 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA - The enigmatic Alex Semin is no stranger to finding himself in a coach's doghouse, especially since his legion of critics claim he plays like a chien at times.

For those of you not schooled in French, "chien" is the word for "dog." That's one of the nicer descriptions of Semin that his bashers have used over the years, a list that includes mutt, bow bow, you name it.

Is it deserved? We'll let you decide.

From a talent standpoint, Semin is one of the most gifted players in the NHL. For that reason, don't be surprised if some desperate general manager coughs up in the neighbourhood of $6 million per season for the pending unrestricted free agent over the summer.

For those considering such a move, here's some advice:

Buyer beware.

For all his natural talents, Semin has the reputation of disappearing for long stretches at a time, both on the ice and on the scoresheet.

That's not the issue Caps coach Dale Hunter had with Semin in Game 1 of Washington's Eastern Conference semifinal against the New York Rangers Saturday, a 3-1 loss at Madison Square Garden.

No, Hunter's problem with Semin seems to be centred around his discipline.

Or, in this case, a lack thereof.

Semin took two silly stick penalties in the loss, irking his coach in the process.

Bad move.

Just ask Semin, who found himself practising Sunday on the fourth line with Mike Knuble and Keith Aucoin.

If you are thinking that's a demotion, you'd be right.

Hunter is a no-nonsense guy. He understands that this will be a tight series, with very little wiggle room. In the end, the difference could very well be which team takes more foolish penalties.

And, when it's his own players who are doing it, he is laying down the law that it simply will not be tolerated.

Of course, Hunter didn't come out and say that. The former London Knights bench boss is quite coy that way. He's never going to show you his hand. That is not Dale Hunter's modus operandi.

That's why none of the reporters on hand for the Caps workout at Madison Square Garden Sunday were surprised when Hunter denied he was sending a message to Semin.

"No, just mixing the lines up," he told the assembled media.

Of course, when asked about Semin's performance in the game, including his two minors, Hunter isolated an incident in which the Rangers' Ryan Callahan shoved Semin, causing the Caps forward to respond by taking a slashing penalty.

"The one, he went for the puck and he hit a skate," Hunter said. "The other one, both of them should've went. It was a cross-check. Originally started, if you watch the replay, the guy cross-checked him first. But you can't retaliate. You just can't retaliate.

"You just can't do it. It's up to the referees. It's his call. It's one of those things that he did get cross-checked. But that's the way hockey is, and you have to be smart on the ice," Hunter added.

Semin is no stranger to the fourth line, having served time on it in the final month of the regular season. In any event, Hunter expects Semin to produce wherever he plays.

"He hit the cross bar on the power play," Hunter said. "(And) he scored a couple power-play goals in the Boston series.

"We expect him to get the power play going."

The Caps need to find offence any way they can. While limiting the Rangers to 14 shots in Game 1 is admirable, firing just 18 at all-world New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist will not get the job done.

They also need a better game from rookie goalie Braden Holtby, who was beaten twice through the five hole en route to the loss.

In order to beat the Rangers, the Caps need their top players to lead them, a list that includes Holtby and Semin.

In Game 1, that simply wasn't the case.

And if that doesn't change in Game 2 Monday night at Madison Square Garden, the Caps will find themselves down 2-0 heading back to Washington.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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