Hurricanes-Capitals Preview

Old friends Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin planned to get
together for dinner Monday night, ahead of the Washington Capitals’
big game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday.

It’s safe to say Troy Brouwer would not be joining them.

Brouwer took a few potshots at Semin’s work ethic after Monday’s
practice, reviving the reputation that dogged the talented but
enigmatic Russian’s seven seasons in Washington. The Capitals
finally said goodbye to Semin last summer, and he signed with the
Hurricanes as a free agent.

“It was tough to lose his scoring ability, when he wanted to
play,” Brouwer said. “But all in all I think we’ve been doing well
without him. … Some nights you didn’t even know if he was going
to come to the rink. It’s tough to play alongside guys like those
because you don’t know what you’re going to get out of ’em.”

For good measure, Brouwer also said the Capitals had a “very
lackadaisical” culture under former coach Bruce Boudreau. The
streak of candor highlighted an eventful day of news good and bad
that comes just as Ovechkin and the Capitals are finding themselves
with a chance to ride some momentum and get out of last place.

Goaltender Braden Holtby and defenseman John Erskine both signed
two-year contract extensions, Holtby for $3.7 million and Erskine
for $3.925 million. But center Nicklas Backstrom missed practice
with an illness and left wing Jason Chimera departed early with a
lower body injury, leaving the Capitals contemplating a possible
call-up from the minors for a game that could get them back in the
running in the Southeast Division.

The Capitals (6-10-1) are one of the surprises so far in the
lockout-crunched season, sitting near the bottom of the NHL
standings. But they’re coming off of a dominating
turn-back-the-clock performance, with Ovechkin scoring his first
hat trick in more than two years in a 5-1 win over the New Jersey
Devils on Saturday.

This could therefore be a make-or-break week. A regulation win
on Tuesday would pull the Capitals within four points of the
first-place Hurricanes (9-7-1). There’s also a road game against
the division-contending Winnipeg Jets sandwiched around a game
against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Which makes the return of Semin all the more compelling. He’s
playing well for the Hurricanes – his 14 points would tie Ovechkin
for second on the team if he were still with the Capitals – and
Ovechkin said his fellow Russian “will want to show up and tell
them it was a mistake” for Washington to let him go.

As Brouwer indicated, a motivated Semin has not always been a
given. Ex-Capitals forward Matt Bradley once said that Semin “could
easily be the best player in the league, and just for whatever
reason, just doesn’t care.”

The Hurricanes feel differently, at least according to center
Tim Brent, who responded Monday to Brouwer on Twitter.

“I can say on behalf of his teammates that we love having him
here, and he has been a big part of our success so far with his
consistent play and work ethic. NOT only his scoring ability. I
hope he sticks it to them,” Brent tweeted.

Brouwer also addressed the change in culture under new coach
Adam Oates while picking apart the regime of Boudreau, who was
fired early last season and replaced by Dale Hunter. Boudreau is
now the coach of the first-place Anaheim Ducks.

“It was very lackadaisical, I would say,” Brouwer said. “Kind of
guys were able to do whatever they pleased. There wasn’t a whole
lot of accountability. And then when we had a little bit of trouble
and there needed to be accountability, it wasn’t received exactly
with welcome arms, I’ll say.

“And then with Hunts everything was very strict, making sure
guys were blocking shots, maybe getting them out of their styles of
play as far as particular players go. And then with Adam, I mean
everyone’s still accountable, everyone has to do their job, but
he’s letting guys play the way that makes them successful – goal
scorers need to score, checkers need to check. Everyone’s got a
defined role on the team now.”