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Let Semin be

Why (almost) everything you’ve been told about the Russian winger is flat out wrong

Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Having experienced the NHL from the same perspective as most members of the mainstream sports media (through covering the Canadiens for the team’s official website in 2013-14), it is very difficult for me to accept the way Alex Semin is being portrayed by the media in recent days. Casting doubts about #13’s contributions nine games into an undefeated season is, at best, misleading.

In a particularly puzzling instance last week, a panelist on a popular post-game show was faulting Semin’s streaky tendencies and inconsistent play.

Never mind that this person, a former Canadiens captain, scored 40 goals in his best year, he also went goal-less a whopping 55 times that regular season. Clearly the pot calling the kettle black, and further proof that nearly every popularly-held belief tends to be wrong.

So in the interest of fairness, allow me to cherry-pick a couple of video examples from the Canadiens-Leafs game last Saturday, which we’ll use to build a case for Alexander Semin actually being a selfless player and great teammate, in terms of his on-ice actions.

1) Discipline And Tenacity On the Powerplay

By and large, I have to give credit to the Montreal coaching staff for putting Semin in a position to succeed this season, in contrast to how they handled P.A. Parenteau last year. Semin has been sharing the ice with linemates who share his offensive flair (Alex Galchenyuk) and who can cover up his defensive limitations (Lars Eller).

The Russian has also received plenty of powerplay time. Though his shooting hasn't been showcased in the best possible way, we can say that he has been doing plenty of little things to justify his usage.

On the PP zone exit, which we don’t see here, Semin swings way back into the defensive zone to support Andrei Markov on the controlled exit, then backs up Galchenyuk as he makes the controlled zone entry. He doesn’t touch the puck, but puts himself in the position to receive a pass and cover defensively for his teammates if they bobble the puck.

Because of this, Toronto penalty killers cannot pressure the puck carrier aggressively, allowing Montreal to set up in the offensive zone. Markov slides the puck over to P.K. Subban, who takes a hard, low one-timer on net.

David Desharnais recovers the puck and cycles it back up to the point, via Semin. A few cross-ice passes later, Semin has an opening to take a shot, but passes on this opportunity. He then blocks a Toronto clearing attempt and finally uses good stickwork to allow Subban to tee it up from the slot.

Looking at this clip, we see a player with tremendous hockey sense and discipline. If anything, he should have taken a shot on net when he had the puck on his stick instead of looking to dish it off. It’s definitely not the type of shift a selfish player would have had.

2) Effort On The Backcheck

It's important to note a few things here:

For one thing, the score is 0-0 midway through the first period. There is some virtue in having players battle just as hard whether down three goals, tied, or up three goals. But I tend to believe that every human being is wired just a bit differently.

Maybe that dogged determination Semin lacks 100% of the time is a gift, same as how Devante Smith-Pelly will never be able to skate, stickhandle or shoot as well as he does. Semin was benched later on in that runaway win, perhaps due to soft play or a lack of compete, but he certainly busted his butt to repair Nathan Beaulieu’s mistake here, when the outcome of the game was still in doubt.

Is Alex Semin still an elite scorer? Probably not. Will he make some obvious mistakes? Most definitely yes. But the knowledgeable observer already knew that.

What matters most right now, is that he is a productive top-six player and an underrated teammate; the right fit for a team that’s doing pretty well for itself.

Jack Han is the Video & Analytics Coordinator for the McGill Martlet Hockey team. He also writes occasionally about the NHL for Habs Eyes on the Prize. You can find him on Twitter or on the ice at McConnell Arena.