RALEIGH — Alexander Semin of the Carolina Hurricanes rarely does interviews, so it’s hard to know what the winger might say about the past week.
Semin was named to the Russian Olympic team for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi – after first being snubbed – and was the subject of scrutiny after being publicly criticized by Canes general manager Jim Rutherford. Semin, in turn, scored six goals in four games, showing the skill and flair that once made him one of the NHL’s most feared snipers.
But if Semin doesn’t want to talk, and he doesn’t, his teammates will. So will Canes coach Kirk Muller.
“It’s been impressive and not that he’s scoring goals. He’s scoring huge goals for us, too,” forward Jeff Skinner said.
Before his tear, Semin had six goals in 34 games and was passing up shots, missing the net and having shots blocked way too often. That’s not what Rutherford expected when Semin signed a five-year, $35 million contract extension last year.
Rutherford said he recently had frank conversations with Semin’s agent about his overall play and lack of production. He then made some biting comments about Semin in a television interview last week.
“Those comments didn’t just come out of the blue. They had already been communicated (to Semin),” Rutherford said. “Alex understood we have a big investment in him, that certain players have certain roles and his role for us is to score goals and be productive.”
Semin scored two goals last Saturday in a home win against the Florida Panthers. He scored once against both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers, then had another two goals Thursday in a 5-3 win at Buffalo.
Against the Flyers, Semin rifled a wrist shot past goalie Steve Mason. On Thursday, he scorched Jhonas Enroth of the Sabres.
“Not many guys in the league can shoot it hard as he can or get it off as fast as he can,” said Skinner, who scored his 22nd of the season Thursday. “He’s deceptive in kind of hiding the release point. Sometimes he sort of drags it and delays it and it kind of throws everyone’s timing off. It’s a pretty tough skill to learn and he’s sort of mastered it.”
Canes goalie Justin Peters has faced that Semin shot, in practice and in games when Semin played for the Washington Capitals.
“He shoots the puck from behind him and it’s tough to read off the stick,” Peters said. “You don’t really know when it’s coming. And he’s been doing a real good job lately of using defensive screens in shooting off the rush.”
Semin’s first goal Thursday came when he used defenseman Christian Ehrhoff as a partial screen. Enroth was frozen, as if he never saw the puck.
“He’s really quick in the offensive zone and his shot is unbelievable,” forward Jiri Tlusty said. “It can be unstoppable. Hopefully he realizes that and will use it more often.”
The Canes’ Jordan Staal had a few duels with Semin when Semin was with the Caps and Staal the checking center with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Staal said his strategy was simple: “Just get on him as quick as you can and play hard on him.” But Semin’s reach and size at 6-foot-2 and 209 pounds made for a difficult matchup.
“With the things he can do with his hands, it’s tough to get a good stick on him,” Staal said. “And the way he can get shots off is pretty tough to defend. He’s very strong and not easy to knock off the puck.”
Muller said he didn’t talk to Semin individually about the concerns of Rutherford and management. He said the discussion was more with the top line – center Eric Staal, Semin and Tlusty – and centered on how they could be consistently efficient.
Semin has been efficient. He has had 17 shots on goal in the past four games, boosting his scoring percentage to 10.3 percent, and has missed the net six times.
“He’s getting more shots and he’s hitting the net,” Muller said. “Earlier, his percentage of missing the net was so high it doesn’t matter how hard you shoot it. But for whatever reason he’s back on track and hitting the net and shooting more and scoring more.”
Murphy to Checkers: The Carolina Hurricanes on Friday assigned defenseman Ryan Murphy to the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL.
Murphy will be eligible to play for the Checkers during the NHL’s break for the 2014 Winter Olympics, which begins next month.
Murphy, 20, has two goals and nine assists in 39 NHL games with Carolina this season but has been a healthy scratch in recent games.