Carolina Hurricanes

Semin back in Canes lineup, not that he's talking about it

The Canes Alexander Semin (28) and the Buffalo Sabres' Cody Hodgson (19) go for the puck during an NHL game played between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Buffalo Sabres at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. on Oct. 14, 2014.
The Canes Alexander Semin (28) and the Buffalo Sabres' Cody Hodgson (19) go for the puck during an NHL game played between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Buffalo Sabres at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. on Oct. 14, 2014. cseward@newsobserver.com

Alexander Semin is back in the Carolina Hurricanes lineup, playing, contributing, helping the team win games.

Not that he's talking about it.

Semin rarely speaks to the media. The forward turned down another interview request Wednesday.

When Semin wasn't playing, he said he didn't want to talk. That's standard fare from some players in the league, but he's playing now and still leaving it to others to speak for him.

Goaltender Anton Khudobin and Semin often are seen joking and smiling, speaking in Russian, at times playfully teasing each other.

"You have to get to know him. He's great guy," Khudobin said. "I like him and respect him as a person. He loves to joke. Sometimes you don't understand his English. You can only see what we do."

From any vantage point, Semin's season has been disjointed and inconsistent under first-year coach Bill Peters. He had offseason wrist surgery, then had a slow start to the season, much like the team.

Peters has questioned Semin's conditioning at times, saying he was not up to NHL speed. He also has made him a healthy scratch several times.

Semin, who turns 31 next month, signed a five-year contract extension in 2013 that pays him $7 million a year. Given that, and with so little production - two goals and eight assists in 30 games this season - he could be nearly impossible to move should the Canes seek to trade him.

Khudobin said it would be a mistake to question Semin's commitment - to the game, to the team.

"He trains at home," Khudobin said. "He built a little rink in the basement at home (in Raleigh) for skating and shooting, and trains there. Maybe you look at him and says he struggles but he doesn't give up. He always tries to improve his game."

After being a healthy scratch for four straight games, Semin went back in the lineup for the Jan. 31 game against the New York Rangers as the Canes began a four-game road trip. He scored a goal against the Anaheim Ducks - who face the Canes Thursday night at PNC Arena - and made a sweet pass to Andrej Nestrasil to set up a goal in Carolina's 5-4 victory Saturday over the San Jose Sharks.

"He's bought in, he's worked hard recently in practice," Peters said Wednesday. "He's been good in the games. He's been competitive. He's played with more pace and he's made play. He's playing as good as he has all year."

Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau saw Semin at his best when Boudreau was coaching the Washington Capitals and Semin joined Alexander Ovechkin in giving the Caps two of the best snipers in the NHL. Semin had a career-high 40 goals in the 2009-2010 season, ending a four-year span when he scored 138 times.

"He had his best years when he didn't have to be the top dog and was a second-line guy," Boudreau said Wednesday. "Everybody paid attention to 'Ovi.' I think that's part of it.

"Maybe he played with a little more confidence, because when he came over from Russia he was instantly scoring. And initially he was on a pretty bad team, so he played a lot and played in every situation."

Semin played a lot for former Canes coach Kirk Muller, scoring 13 goals in 44 games in the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season, then 22 in 65 games last season.

As Canes winger Elias Lindholm said, "He can do some amazing things out there."

Semin scored on 10.5 percent of his 210 shots on goal last season. But he has just 39 shots this season, scoring on 5.1 percent.

"I think this is an anomaly that has happened to him this year," Boudreau said. "I think he's still as skilled as anybody. He's got a really good hockey mind. He's going to snap out of it. I just hope he waits to the weekend."

Semin has missed seven games this season because of injuries. In another 15 games, he has been listed as "DNP" - did not play - and sat out seven straight games in late-December and early January.

"Obviously it's been tough for him," Canes captain Eric Staal said. "This season, he wanted better and obviously some injuries have caused him some discomfort, but I think he knows what he needs to do to stay in the lineup and be a contributor."

Khudobin has had ups and downs of his own the past two seasons and realizes it was tough for Semin to remain upbeat and positive when he wasn't playing.

"When you have a season like this, you expect from yourself more and more," Khudobin said. "It frustrates you and puts a lot of stuff in your head. At the same time, he will figure it out and show his game."

And maybe, at some point, talk about it.

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