Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau wouldn’t say whether Alexander Semin, left, will return to the lineup Wednesday against Winnipeg. (Marianne Helm/GETTY IMAGES)

Two weeks ago in New Jersey, Bruce Boudreau sent a stern warning to struggling winger Alexander Semin when he benched him for more than half the game.

On Monday, the Capitals’ coach delivered an ultimatum that reverberated throughout Washington’s dressing room. Semin, for the first time in the Boudreau era, was a healthy scratch.

“It was shocking,” center Nicklas Backstrom said of looking at a dry-erase board without No. 28 on it. “I don’t think there’s a lot to talk [to him] about. He knows [why] himself.”

And, now, so do the other star players. If Semin and his $6.7 million salary can be banished to the press box, anyone can.

But what still wasn’t known on Tuesday was this: Where do Semin and the Capitals go from here?

Trading him is an option, albeit a difficult one to pull off. His stock, after all, is at an all-time low. Through 18 games, he’s been benched, scratched and has 10 more minor penalties (14) than he has goals, putting the former 40-goal getter on pace for a pedestrian 18.

That doesn’t mean a deal can’t be made. What it likely means, though, is that the Capitals and Semin are in this together for the foreseeable future.

Which puts the puck on Semin’s stick.

He’s got two choices: He can conform, stop taking selfish penalties and attempting risky, video-game-like toe drags at the offensive blue line. Or he can pout, take another hooking penalty in the offensive zone and pour fuel onto what, at the moment, is a brush fire.

Semin’s initial response has been curious, to say the least.

It was obvious as early as Sunday that Semin was a candidate to be scratched against Phoenix when he joined a four-man fourth-line unit for practice. Despite the evidence, Semin chose not participate in Monday’s optional morning skate. He found out later that he wouldn’t be playing.

When Semin arrived at Verizon Center for the game later that night, the winger was so down in the dumps, a source said, that Boudreau did not want him to take pregame warmup for fear that he would drag down his teammates’ spirits before a crucial game. (Players who are going to be scratched usually take the warmup.)

But on Tuesday there seemed to be a complete reversal in Semin’s attitude. He was all smiles as he joined six other skaters for the Capitals’ first optional practice this season.

Even after most of the players left the rink, Semin remained on the ice with assistant coaches Dave Prior and Bob Woods to help fire shots at backup goalie Michal Neuvirth. It’s not unusual for spare part Mathieu Perreault and rookies Dmitry Orlov and Cody Eakin to do that; it is, however, rare for stars.

When Semin finally left the ice, he walked into the dressing room, placed his stick on the rack and removed his helmet. Then he returned to the gate that separates fans from the bench area and signed autographs.

That, too, is rare for Semin.

Boudreau wouldn’t say whether Semin will return to the lineup Wednesday against Winnipeg. He’s normally loathe to change things after a win. But considering Semin’s scintillating career statistics against the former Atlanta Thrashers franchise (18 goals and 17 assists in 32 career games) and the Capitals’ recent struggles, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him suit up, either.

After initially declining to speak to reporters, Semin stopped on his way out of the dressing room long enough to answer two questions.

“Probably too much penalties,” he said in his limited English when asked if he understood the reason for being benched. “So I’m looking from press box.”

Asked what he plans to do differently when he gets back into the lineup, he shrugged as he walked away. Then he stopped, smiled and shot back, “Probably score a goal.”