Hockey is a subtle game, like it or not. As odd as it might sound to some, where someone grew up or played prior to the NHL will actually influence how they play in the league.
Initially, Semin looked amazing. He seemed to be getting along with teammates, gelled well with captain Eric Staal and was making some big time plays. However, it was only some, and not a lot. His offensive output was great, but just not the neon lights fans were promised.
After signing a contract, it was obvious Semin was happy in Carolina, wanted to stay and felt good about the team. Coming into this season, having him on a scoring line with Staal and shoot-em-up left winger Jiri Tlusty, it seemed everything was coming up Semin.
Obviously it’s too early to tell, but in the opening three games, something has started to show. Semin is singing a different tune than the rest of the Hurricanes offense — and it all comes down to background.
Semin spent a long time in Washington with countryman and all-around bothersome player, Alexander Ovechkin. Other than both being named Alexander, the big thing they have in common is that both of them came up in the Russian leagues. Which makes sense, since they’re both from Russia.
Kidding aside, Semin, like Ovechkin and Detroit Red Wings hotshot Pavel Datsyuk, play in a very specific, very Russian style. It’s not better or worse than the North American style, it’s just … different. There’s a lot of spin moves, round-the-back passes, dipsy-doodles, deeks and all kinds of other oddly named stunts.
Yet at the same time, it’s also a very down to business, score goals, offense-first, “don’t talk to me if you’re not putting up points” kind of style. In contrast to the North American style which, simply put, is more of a grind-it-out, tougher version of the game: more physical, more checking, more grit, less razzle-dazzle. Again, one isn’t better than the other. They both have positives and they both have shortcomings.
Semin is a very Russian player. Many times during last night’s shellacking by the Pittsburgh Penguins, fans saw Semin going for a big pass, only to see nobody home. He’d set up to charge the zone and drag Staal and Tlusty with him, creating an opening at the point.
Semin is not doing anything wrong here. There is not a coach in the world who will tell a player not to go to the net and create scoring chances or shots on goal. However, is this the best style of play when you’re sharing a line with Staal, who is the prototypical Canadian rink rat?
The solution to this rests squarely with head coach Kirk Muller, and possibly even assistant coach Rod Brind’amour. Coaches can really go either way in a situation like this. Do you ask Semin to adjust to the North American style? Do you try to get his linemates to start moving to more open passing lanes and think in more “shoot first, clean ‘em up later” kinds of terms?
This decision would best be left to Brind’amour, who is a walking Tao Teh Ching of team chemistry. While his final playing years saw him as a large money pit, one thing is certain: Brind’amour knows this stuff, and well.
The huge advantage is having Semin on a line with Tlusty, who plays a great hybrid of the European and North American styles. He is a bridge than can close the style gap with the rest of the team, and Muller more than likely already sees this.
Few of us should be so presumptuous as to claim to know what Muller or any of his coaching staff should or will do. However, it’s clear that one of these things is not like the other. There’s no question Semin and the team know it. The only question is whether or not it’s being addressed, how, and by whom.
The sooner the top line finds a common song to sing, the sooner we’ll see Semin on the evening highlight reel.