Alexander Semin is off to a scorching hot start to the season, making fantasy owners everywhere happy with his prolific ability to rack up... penalty minutes? After leading the Washington Capitals in minor penalties taken each of the last two seasons, he's off to the races again, with 28 penalty minutes on the season so far, leading the team in both penalty minutes and minor penalties taken (he's fourth in the League in the latter category with two games in hand on those ahead of him).
Recently, Bruce Boudreau defended Semin (something which has become far too easy for NHL blueliners lately, but that's another post), saying "[o]bviously the refs seem to have it out for him.... They definitely look at him." Caps fans and pundits have echoed this sentiment, claiming that many of Semin's penalties were undeserved, but with most everyone quick to acknowledge something similar to Boudreau's next thought, that "he's got a reputation so it's unfortunate for him but he's earned the reputation." Alex Semin has made his bed and now he's sleeping in it.
After the jump is video of each of Semin's 14 minor penalties; let's take a look and see which of the calls have been deserved, and which might be reputation (or just plain bad) calls.
Semin's first penalty came against the Carolina Hurricanes at the end of the third period on opening night. Semin was whistled for boarding as regulation expired:
Obviously this is a deserved penalty. It's clear-cut boarding; there isn't much to complain about.
Again, the replay clearly shows that Semin got his stick into Moore's hands. That's a penalty every time.
Unfortunately, CSN didn't provide a replay of the hook/dive so we're stuck with the live angle. Semin certainly goes down awkwardly, but given how rarely diving is called in the NHL I think it's fair to claim that this was a reputation call. There wasn't an exaggerated head snap or any of the other tell-tale signs of diving, but the awkward nature of the fall can raise some red flags. Semin frequently skates pushing his balance to the extremes, so small pulls against his body weight can throw him off. He's also not incredibly strong on his skates, so it's not like he's a guy you'd expect to be able to fight through contact.
No commentary needed, that's a blatant high stick.
Next, Semin was called for hooking against the Edmonton Oilers:
Once again we have no replay, but even based on the live view it looks pretty clear that Semin got his stick into Taylor Hall's hands. Just like the hooking against Moore up above, that's a textbook call and Caps fans would likely be very upset if they had a good cycle interrupted by that play and no penalty was called.
Two nights later Semin was whistled for another hooking penalty against the Vancouver Canucks:
Again, that's a textbook hooking call. Semin gets his stick into Cody Hodgson's hands and maintains pressure until he disrupts possession. That has to be called.
Being as generous as you can to Alex Semin, it looks like Nielsen may have hit some bad ice. But at the same, Semin got his stick across both skates and the puck carrier went down. If the skates were on the other feet Caps fans would demand a call.
The next game Semin was called for two tripping penalties against the Dallas Stars:
Again, pretty clear-cut call. It could be argued that Semin only holds up Adam Burrish's stick, and that Burrish trips over his own stick, but that distinction would only serve to change the call to interference, given that Burrish didn't have the puck. But if Semin does get his stick across Burrish's legs and/or skates, that argument would be moot.
With no replay it's tough to see what really happened here. The Stars player goes down awkwardly and Semin's stick is there, but it's not clear that Semin is the reason the puck carrier went down. It may be a bit of reputation call, but at live speed it looks like a legitimate trip. Semin himself might have picked up a dive for going down awkwardly like that, but it's hard to argue against the trip there.
Next up: A hooking penalty against the New Jersey Devils:
This is a tough call to take. Semin didn't make solid contact with Nick Palmieri's hands, and his stick wasn't in the midsection for long at all. Palmieri also seemed to toe-pick and go down on his own. The optics must have looked bad to the ref, but this doesn't look like a penalty that Semin earned.
Semin finished the home-and-home with the Devils by taking a tripping penalty on Ryan Carter:
The replay pretty clearly shows that Semin got Carter's skate with his stick. No complaints on this one.
Against the Nashville Predators Semin picked up an interference penalty by knocking Jonathan Blum's stick out of his hands:
This one is tough. There's no clear rule that knocking a stick out of a player's hands is a penalty, nothing as clear as the breaking-the-stick slashing penalty, but you do see this play called a penalty often enough to expect it to come. Shea Weber was called for this same penalty against the Caps in that game, and against the Phoenix Coyotes the Caps got a power play when Shane Doan slashed the stick out of a Caps player's hands. It's maddening that Blum was holding his stick like it was an injured bird, but it's not a totally bogus call, it's just a somewhat inconsistent one. For example, the next game the Winnipeg Jets announcers were applauding one of the Jets' defenders for knocking Semin's stick out of his hands away from the play. I guess it's a good play when the ref doesn't call it...
Speaking of that Jets game, Semin took an unsportsmanlike conduct:
Obviously Semin took exception to the no-call on Zach Bogosian. It's impossible for us to say whether he earned the penalty, I guess it will come down to whether you give Semin or the ref the benefit of the doubt, but I think it's fair to assume he used some mix of magic words to earn those two minutes. Refs in the NHL aren't looking to put players in the box for talking back, and they generally have a pretty decent tolerance for arguing from players. Hey, at least Sasha was speaking English.
This one comes down to how much benefit of the doubt you give Semin. He seemed to go down easily, but the hook pulled him against his body's momentum and he was turning up ice; his balance wasn't directly over his skates (and diving potentially ankles-first into the boards would seem a pretty risky way to try to draw a call). It's also worth noting that Semin appears to be checking his edges on the way to the box, a sign that he may have lost an edge (or was trying to trick the ref). Obviously Crabb agreed with the call, but it's hard not to see this as at least partially a reputation call given how infrequently NHL refs call diving penalties.
So after looking at all of these penalties, it's pretty clear that Semin has deserved the vast majority of the calls against him. Even giving Semin the benefit of the doubt on the close calls, the two dives, the interference on Blum, the hook against Palmieri, and the second trip against the Stars, that leaves Semin with 9 minor penalties. That would still lead the Caps, and is still an unacceptable number. Sure, Semin may be getting hit with reputation calls, but watching these videos it's no wonder why. He reaches with his stick, making it obvious to the refs, and frequently he catches the oppontents' hands. Those are always going to be calls, especially for a guy that has a long history of taking those kinds of penalties. It also appears as though the reputation calls have been coming more frequently, with four of the five questionable calls coming in the last six games that Semin has dressed for. It may just be variance, or it may be a growing snowball, but it bears watching. At the very least it doesn't look like Semin is on the road to recovery.
Another interesting note in all this, of Semin's 9(!) points on the season, five have come in games in which he did not commit a penalty. Of the other four, three came before his penalty. That leaves a whopping one point for Alex Semin following a penalty on the entire season (he had a point in between the two Dallas penalties). As if this post needed an exclamation point, there it is. Stay out of the box, Sasha.