Russian mystery in the District

Washington Capitals winger Alexander Semin has a team-high 18 goals in 29 games and is fifth in the NHL with 33 points.
Washington Capitals winger Alexander Semin has a team-high 18 goals in 29 games and is fifth in the NHL with 33 points. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 8, 2010

On the evening he scored his third hat trick of the season, Alexander Semin stood in the Washington Capitals' dressing room enveloped by a horde of reporters. Amid the sound of whirring fans drying sweaty equipment, Semin was asked if he can ever predict such a successful performance.

Given an opportunity to offer insight or make a joke, the 26-year-old Russian sharpshooter chose one of his typically guarded answers.

"I'm not going to say anything," he said through an interpreter. "That's inside me. I'm not going to share that with you guys. Why should I reveal anything?"

A third of the way through his sixth season with the Capitals, Semin is on pace for a career-best campaign statistically, and although teammates say he's gradually revealing more of his reserved personality in the locker room, he is still a mystery to the outside world. Whether Washington is a long-term fit for Semin, whose contract is set to expire at the conclusion of the season, remains to be seen.

"Everything is going well here," Semin said through an interpreter in a rare one-on-one interview. "I want to continue winning, to stay here. I want to win the Cup here. It's a good team, with good coaches and training staff. I'm not thinking much further ahead now. Once there's an offer, I will, but I'm comfortable with this team."

General Manager George McPhee declined to discuss where Semin might fit in to Washington's long-term plans, but if the skilled winger can continue his progress on all fronts through the duration of the regular season and playoffs, he could demand more than the $6 million he will earn from his current one-year deal.

Semin leads the Capitals with 18 goals and is among the top five scorers in the league with 33 points, and he has removed some of the doubts about his discipline after leading the Capitals in minor penalties last year. Still, he insists he has not changed anything about his game.

"It's the same kind of approach," he said. "Maybe I got luckier."

But Semin's teammates say what has changed is his attitude off the ice.

"He's a fun-loving kid, and I don't think many people aside from us get to see that much because he's not doing interviews and things like that," said Brooks Laich, Semin's linemate for the better part of the past two seasons. "He has been a little more vocal at times and I think it's just progress moving forward. . . . He's been in this organization for some time now and [for] some players, it can take a while to be completely comfortable."

What Semin chooses to share with the public has always been limited. He will only conduct interviews in Russian, and while he understands enough English to communicate with teammates and the Capitals' equipment and training staff, he still doesn't speak it much.

"Sometimes it's a little bit hard because he doesn't want to speak too much English," center Nicklas Backstrom said. "He's a great guy here; I just wish he spoke more English sometimes. Every year I've been here, though, he gets a little bit better. I think it's good for the team, too, that he's trying to."

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