It's not exactly a secret that Alexander Semin is immensely talented and generally productive, yet inconsistent and injury prone. It's also not exactly a secret that Semin inspires as much heated debate as any other Capitals player. Discussion of Semin's value, be it comparing the positives in his game to the negatives, debating his market value, discussing how he fits in to the team's long-term plans, or even considering whether he should be used as trade bait have been fairly commonplace this season, though they quieted when Semin missed time in November with an injury, and have stayed quiet as the Caps succeed on the ice. While that has meant less discussion of the winger's shortcomings, it also means that not all that much discussion has been paid to the fact that Semin has been playing really, really well recently.
The low point for Semin came in an early November loss to the Devils in which he, as J.P. noted, "waited until the 3:19 mark of the third period to register his first shot on goal of the game, ended with just three, and took three separate offensive-zone stick penalties." Although Semin helped make up for his poor performance a couple nights later, recording two goals against the Islanders, he continued to struggle until he was shut down on November 15th. Given the injury, and the run of mediocre-to-poor performances, looking at how Sasha's played since returning to the lineup on December 3rd seems fair.
The numbers tell the story:
Simply put, the offensive production is outstanding, no matter how you look at it. Goals, assists, powerplay production (without using it as a means to pad stats to the point where they're misleading), shots on goal - no matter what you need in the way of offensive production, Sasha can provide it. But then, Semin's talent has never been in dispute, nor has his ability to put up gaudy numbers. The questions have always been consistency and penalties. Has he been addressing those issues?
The short answer is 'somewhat' . In the twenty-four games since returning from his wrist injury, Semin has had only one instance of back-to-back point-less games and has failed to register a point eight times. Coming up empty on the scoresheet 1/3 of the time might seem like a lot, but it compares favorably to many of the NHL's best offensive players, including Sidney Crosby (34% of games), Marian Gaborik (31.4%), and Ilya Kovalchuk (33.3%) - though it also represents a decline from last season, when Semin only failed to score in 28.5% of his outings. As for the penalties - 48 penalty minutes over an 82 game season is a little high when you consider that Semin's a wing and that he's not taking very many physical penalties. That said, a 0.59 penalty minute per game rate would be the best of Semin's career.
The overall verdict? A 24 game sample isn't enough to draw any major conclusions, and Semin's weaknesses are still his weaknesses. But that doesn't mean there isn't a legitimate reason for fans to be encouraged by Semin's recent play, or even that it's only a matter of time before he regresses.