Canes’ Alexander Semin gets set to play old team

calexander@newsobserver.comFebruary 25, 2013 

— Jiri Tlusty says he has seen Alexander Semin’s funny side.

Tlusty said he sees it surface in the Carolina Hurricanes’ locker room, away from the media, when it’s just the players. The two forwards sit side by side in the room at PNC Arena and Tlusty, a native of the Czech Republic, says he knows just enough Russian to get Semin going.

"I’ll joke around and I’ll say something in Russian and he’ll start laughing so hard," Tlusty said.

Such as?

"It’s usually the bad words you know in a different language," Tlusty said, smiling. "So I’ll say them from time to time and he starts laughing.

"He’s been great. He jokes around with the guys. He’s getting used to us and opening up more and more every day. I think he’s enjoying his time more and more."

Semin doesn’t talk about such things publicly – not very often. He shies away from interviews, preferring to go his own way and just play hockey.

But his body language has been positive. He appears to have found his place on this Hurricanes team, found his place on Eric Staal’s line, often with Tlusty at the opposite wing. He moves about the locker room and the ice with a confident, purposeful stride, belying any reputation he gained in Washington with the Capitals as a player who could be diffident, disinterested at times.

Ah, yes, Washington.

Semin will be making his return Tuesday, facing for the first time the NHL team that made him its first-round draft pick in 2002. While Alexander Ovechkin always has been the Caps’ biggest star, the biggest Russian in town, Semin scored 197 regular-season goals in seven seasons with the Caps and had a career-high 40 in 2009-2010.

An unrestricted free agent after last season, Semin said goodbye to the Caps, to his adopted U.S. home. He signed a one-year, $7 million contract with the Hurricanes, only to have the NHL lockout delay his debut with his new team – and his first game against his old team.

Now, he’s back.

"You have to know this will be a special game for him," Canes defenseman Jay Harrison said.

Semin, 28, will go into it off his second three-point game of the season. He had a goal and two assists Sunday as the Canes (9-7-1) rallied past the New York Islanders for a 4-2 road win that pushed them back into first place in the Southeast Division.

A heavy Semin shot on a second-period power play resulted in Eric Staal whacking the puck out of the air – "My ol’ baseball swing,” Staal said – for a goal. Less then a minute later, Semin had the primary assist on Jordan Staal’s goal that tied the score 2-2.

Bobby Sanguinetti’s third-period goal gave the Canes a 3-2 lead. Semin then sealed it with a late empty-net score, his fourth goal of the season.

Semin has 10 assists, and none more notable than the ridiculously impressive between-the-legs pass to Tlusty for a goal Thursday against Winnipeg. He has 57 shots this season but often has been a pass-first player.

"He came from a different system in Washington and it’s going to be a big adjustment for anybody," Eric Staal said. "But he’s a fun guy to play with. He has a ton of skill. He can make plays down low, plays in the neutral zone and really shoot the puck.”

Tlusty recalled how Semin once tormented the Hurricanes and noted a tight-angle shot Semin had that beat goalie Cam Ward in a game last season.

"Glove-high on Wardo, short side, little room and he did it," Tlusty said of the shot. "He always seemed to score nice goals against us. He’s a sniper."

Canes coach Kirk Muller said Semin’s playmaking ability has been a bit of a surprise. Another has been Semin’s effective back-checking and defensive play.

As Muller said, there’s a reason Semin has a plus-10 rating through 17 games. While a crafty offensive player, Semin also is a smart player in the defensive zone and knows how to best use his 6-2, 209-pound frame.

"He’s a strong man, strong on his skates," Canes defenseman Joe Corvo said.

Semin’s future with the Hurricanes remains to be seen and big decision must be made after the season – by both sides. But neither appears to have any qualms about the situation for now.

"We’ve enjoyed being around him and it’s one of those things where you get more comfortable as you go," Eric Staal said.

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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