Penguins Notebook: Capitals' other Russian a star, too

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WASHINGTON -- Alexander Semin doesn't have Alexander Ovechkin's reputation. Or his personality. Or, by most measures, his talent.

But Semin, a Washington left winger, still is tough to ignore, despite being an introverted sort who probably would prefer that most people do just that.

"Knowing Sasha's personality, I think he's quite happy just letting [Ovechkin] do all the interviews," Capitals coach Glen Hanlon said yesterday. "He's so happy he doesn't have to go through all of this stuff.

"It's a great situation for him, because he could just quietly go about his whole career here and be happy."

Semin has to be pleased with how this season has gone because, thanks to exceptional vision and a well-rounded skill set, he is the Capitals' No. 2 scorer as they prepare to face the Penguins at 7:08 tonight at the Verizon Center.

"His skills are probably up there with the best I've ever seen," said Capitals center Kris Beech, who has been playing between Semin and Matt Pettinger on Washington's No. 2 line. "His puckhandling, shooting and skating is unbelievable."

Semin, back in North America this season after returning to Russia a few years ago, has 12 goals and 12 assists in 25 games. That production doesn't surprise Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, who knows him from the Russian Super League.

"When he came here [the second time], he was basically ready to play in the NHL," Malkin said.

Semin, like Malkin, does not speak English, except for an occasional exchange with teammates. Also like Malkin, he has a gift for getting the puck onto his teammates' sticks.

"He's not like Sidney [Crosby], to that extent, but he has a lot of those skills where he doesn't just see the guy six feet away from him," Hanlon said. "He sees the guy who's 50 feet away from him."

Which is why other teams overlook him at their own peril.

"I'm not sure too many people knew how silly he could make them look," Beech said. "But as the year's gone on, people have started checking him harder, and he's adjusted well to getting more attention."

Praising Malkin

Ovechkin, who predicted in June that Malkin would succeed him as the NHL's rookie of the year, suggested yesterday that Malkin actually is the better player.

Whether he actually meant -- or believes -- that isn't clear, but when asked directly who is better, Ovechkin responded simply, "Him."

Of course, he went on to hang a rather large asterisk on that answer, saying that he picked Malkin because, "I don't like to say nice things about me."

He obviously doesn't mind saying them about Malkin, who leads NHL rookies with 28 points, but still has not realized his potential, according to Ovechkin.

"He can play better," Ovechkin said. "It's just his first year, and he's done unbelievable things. ... He's learning, like I was in the first year."

They goofed

An error in communication, not a lapse in judgment, appears to have been responsible for Atlanta center Steve Rucchin being named the No. 1 star in the Penguins' 4-3 overtime victory at Atlanta Saturday.

That honor apparently was intended for Penguins right winger Colby Armstrong, who scored the winning goal. Trouble is, both Rucchin and Armstrong wear No. 20, and there apparently was confusion over which was to be honored after Armstrong ended the game abruptly.

Of course, while that would explain how Armstrong was snubbed in favor of Rucchin, it doesn't shed any light on why Thrashers defenseman Shane Hnidy was selected ahead of Malkin as the No. 2 star.

Slap shots

The Penguins could learn today if left winger John LeClair, who cleared waivers and re-entry waivers recently, will report to their minor-league team in Wilkes-Barre. If he declines that assignment, LeClair -- who has been holding out hope that another NHL club would like to add him to its lineup -- could be suspended, which means the Penguins could stop payments on his $1.5 million salary. ... Defenseman Rob Scuderi, who lost 10 pounds the past few days because of illness, participated in the Penguins' practice at the Verizon Center yesterday afternoon and seemed optimistic that he would be able to play tonight, if needed. Winger Nils Ekman, who sat out the Atlanta game, did not practice. ... Forward Dainius Zubrus has a regulation goal in each of the Capitals' four shootout losses this season, but has not been used in a shootout. ... Washington is 7-1-1 in games played Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, but 5-9-5 the rest of the week.

Chris McGrath, Getty Images
The Capitals' Alexander Semin, right, steals the puck from the Flyers' Todd Fedoruk Saturday night in action at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia.
Click photo for larger image.

Scouting Report:

Matchup: Penguins at Washington Capitals, 7:08 p.m. today, Verizon Center.

TV, radio: Versus, WXDX-FM (105.9).

Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Olaf Kolzig for Capitals.

Penguins: Are 1-5 in past six games at Washington. ... RW Michel Ouellet does not have a goal in seven games. ... Road power play ranks eighth in NHL, with conversion rate of 18.4 percent.

Capitals: Have gone 7-6-2 at home. ... Ex-Penguins RW Matt Bradley has three goals, all unassisted. ... Are 8-3 against opponents who had 100-plus points last season.

Hidden stat: Capitals have outscored their opponents, 10-4, during the final minute of periods.


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