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Why The Penalty Kill Needs Alex Semin… And Vice Versa

In their last four-plus periods of hockey (including Saturday’s one-shift overtime), the Caps have allowed four power play goals.

Alexander Semin wasn’t on the ice for any of them – however he was on the ice for 2:35 of shorthanded time during that span.

In fact, Semin hasn’t been on the ice for a power play goal against since January 27. Since then, the Caps have allowed 16 extra man goals, but not a single one came during Semin’s 13:04 of shorthanded ice time. The result, in part, is that Semin has the best GAON/60 four-on-five of any forward on the team (one minute of SH TOI per game, minimum).

That’s not to say that Semin is the team’s best penalty killing forward, of course (though the team has killed off 80.8% of opponents’ power plays in games in which Semin has had 1.5 minutes or more of shorthanded time, and only 78.0% when he hasn’t). It’s simply to say that he should be getting more time out there, and here’s the kicker as to why – he’s a better hockey player when he has this added responsibility.

In the 25 games in which Semin has had 1.5 minutes or more of ice time killing penalties, he has averaged .64 goals, 1.4 points and .52 minor penalties per game; in the 20 games in which he has had less than that amount of shorthanded ice time, he is averaging .45 goals, 1.2 points and .55 minors per game; and in the six games in which he hasn’t had any time killing penalties, he has no goals, just four assists and four minors. Killing penalties seems to focus the oft-unfocused Semin and it carries over to the rest of his game. Simple as that.

Bruce Boudreau noted in a recent interview:

With all due respect, it seems the coach is letting the tail wag the dog – use Semin on the PK and you’ll see a better penalty kill and a better performer on the attack.

Update: Thanks to Pepper for reminding me of these Semin quotes from back in November (via Tuvanhillbilly):

This year Washington coach Bruce Boudreau has started playing you not only in the power play, but also on the penalty kill. Previously, this would have been hard to believe.
“Boudreau approached me before the start of the season and said “I saw how you and Fedorov worked on defense during the world championship. You know, I really liked what I saw, so now you and Ovechkin will be out on the penalty kill.” And that is what happened. Your confidence builds up when you are in the game and not sitting on the bench.
Generally, I like it when the other team has a one man advantage. It’s easier to play on a foursome than on a fivesome.”
I’m surprised to hear that.
“It’s easier, no doubt about it. You see, it’s more difficult to attack than defend. Your opponent is moving the puck around in his zone, and you just stay in place and actually control his maneuvers. Nobody is pressing you, nobody is flying into you aggressively. I’ve loved playing four-on-five ever since I was a kid.”
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