Semin’s return stirs mixed feelings for Capitals

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 are one of the surprises so far in the

lockout-crunched season, losing 11 of their first 17 games to sit

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 win on Tuesday

would pull the Capitals within four points of the first-place

Hurricanes. 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.”

Follow Joseph White on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP