Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Same Old Garbage

Alexander Semin has been the Capitals' best forward this season. You won't hear many other analysts or fans say it, but it's true. Despite being criminally underutilized (e.g., reduced minutes at even strength and the power play, playing with inferior linemates, not being used on the penalty kill) and having to play in a mind numbingly conservative, defense-first-second-and-third system installed by Dale Hunter, Semin has managed to essentially lead the team in even strength scoring rate (Perrault actually leads but largely because of Semin), Corsi, and Scoring Chance ratio (SC% as determined by Neil Greenberg). Ovechkin, Laich, and recently Jay Beagle are being given the lion's share of ice time, but it's really Semin who's being effective.

To wit, compare Ovechkin and Semin's numbers at even strength (I did not include Laich's only because he was given checking line matchups for a good portion of the year and I thought it would be unfair to compare apples and oranges, but know that Laich's numbers are fairly dismal, harder matchups notwithstanding):

There may be a basis upon which Ovechkin receives more than 10% more even strength ice time, but it is certainly not performance. The misuse of Semin is at the top of a long list of curious coaching decisions by Hunter.

On a team that has been mostly terrible all year, Semin has been remarkably effective. Everyone talks about how great Backstrom was playing before he got hurt, but Semin has a higher Scoring Chance %, a higher scoring rate, and a higher Corsi, and he did it all while having to carry around the anchor that is Jason Chimera on his line. For a guy who gets nothing but criticism from the mainstream hockey media, it's been a very good season for Alex Semin. Fans of absurd Pierre McGuire histrionics that lead directly to him being made to look the fool on national TV were given a special gift last night when McGuire harangued Semin for not "bearing down" and being "too casual" in putting a chance off the post after calmly deking Dwayne Roloson out of position. McGuire was literally screaming at Semin, who has the 11th highest goals per game average since the lockout, for not converting the chance after great work by Ovechkin earlier in the shift. The echoes of Mcguire's bloated bloviations, which included calling Semin the definition of, wait for it, an "enigma," had barely quieted when Semin absolutely ripped a one-timer through Roloson for the first goal of the game. What was that about bearing down?

Last night was perhaps the apotheosis of the misuse of Semin under the Hunter regime. In a game where a victory would have all but assured the Capitals of the playoffs, and kept them in the hunt for the division, Semin played a total of 14:11. Through two periods, in what was for the most part a scoreless game, he had played 8:10. When Jason Chimera went off for fighting in the 2nd period, Hunter, rather than change his lines or replace the winger to get Perrault and Semin (the Capitals' two most effective even strength scorers) on the ice, the coach simply chose to not play them until Chimera's penalty time had ended. It's been a stunning misallocation of resources, as was the case under the old guy, and it should not come as a surprise that the team is fighting to make the playoffs. Semin finished with 2 points in his 14 minutes, Ovechkin with none in over 22.

Semin is 53rd in the league in EVP/60 (min 50 GP). Of all the players ahead of him, only 11 have played less (Marchand, Purcell, Peverly, Bergeron, Foligno, Perrault, Voracek, Stalberg, Hudler, Pominville, Stafford). Bos, Ott, Phi, Chi, and Det all score substantially more goals than the goal-starved Capitals, and all have deeper groups of scoring forwards to apportion time, however. Semin was apparently not too happy with his ice time last night, and that makes perfect sense, but it's unclear why George McPhee doesn't feel the same way.