Capitals Notebook

Alexander Semin jumps back into Capitals' top line at practice

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 27, 2009

After missing two games because of illness and injury, Washington Capitals winger Alexander Semin returned to practice Monday and was promptly put back in the place where he feels most comfortable: on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

Coach Bruce Boudreau wouldn't say which line Semin will end up on when the Capitals host the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday, but he didn't rule out reuniting his top offensive forwards for the first time since the fifth game of the season. Semin scored five of his six goals in Washington's first four games.

"I guess anything is possible," Boudreau said of the trio, which can be an offensive force and a defensive liability, sometimes on the same shift. "I really like the idea of having the two lines with two real threats because if you check Alex then you have [the other] Alex [to check]. "

Ovechkin, for one, is hoping Boudreau reunites the group against the Flyers -- the first of four games in six nights -- and said the three friends are committed to doing what it takes to stay together.

"If we want to play together, the three of us, we have to play defensively better," Ovechkin said. "So that's our key."

Semin wouldn't say what exactly was ailing him. He looked strong during an up-tempo, hour-long practice, and when asked how he felt afterward, smiled, nodded and said, "Good."

Semin's return could also be the spark the Capitals' slumping power play needs.

The unit has slipped all the way to 20th (16.7 percent) after going a combined 0 for 11 in road victories against Atlanta and the New York Islanders. Semin ranks third on the team with four power-play points and has the only five-on-three goal this season.

"By adding Alexander Semin to your lineup, now the other team is wondering, 'Who do you cover?' " center Brooks Laich said. "Do you pick Mike Green? Do you pick Alex Ovechkin? Do you pick Alexander Semin? We're glad to have him back."

Falling off on faceoffs

The Capitals won the majority of their faceoffs in each of the season's first six contests. But since back spasms forced Boyd Gordon out of the lineup four games ago, they've won the faceoff battle just once. Saturday, they lost a season-worst 70 percent of their draws, forcing them to chase the puck instead of controlling it against a lower-echelon team they should have dominated.

"It's not the center's fault," winger Mike Knuble said. "It's the guys on the ice with him, a three-, four-man job to win a puck if there's a scrum. It's a small thing you can fix just by working harder."

Of the players who have taken at least 33 draws, David Steckel ranks first with 60.6 percent and is followed closely by Gordon's 57.9. Meantime, Backstrom, the ice-time leader among centers, has won just 40.8 percent of his draws. The 21-year-old lost 18 of a season-high 25 faceoffs Saturday, further underscoring his struggles.

Nylander shines in AHL

In his first three games with Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League, Michael Nylander has recorded five assists to help the Griffins go 3-0-0 and perhaps bolster his stock in the eyes of teams in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League that are considering taking him on loan from the Capitals. . . .

Winger Tomas Fleischmann remains on a conditioning stint with the Hershey Bears and could play two more games in the minors before returning to the Capitals. He "might need a couple of more games," Boudreau said. "But the progress from game one to game two was real good." . . .

Ovechkin and Green both left practice early. Ovechkin said he broke a skate; Green is nursing some soreness. Boudreau wouldn't specify Green's injury, but did say it's not connected to the defenseman's knee-on-knee collision with the Islanders' Nate Thompson. . . .

The Capitals' 6-2-2 record marks the franchise's best start since the 1997-98 Eastern Conference championship team.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company