NEW YORK In the final month of the regular season, when the Capitals needed him most, Alexander Semin was at his best with 10 points and a plus-3 rating in his final nine games.
In a physical, first-round series against the Bruins, Semin was reliable in all three zones and led the Capitals with three goals.
But against the Rangers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Capitals 28-year-old right wing was a minus-2 and took a pair of penalties in a 3-1 loss.
Perhaps thats why Semin practiced Sunday on a fourth line with Keith Aucoin and Mike Knuble.
Well see what happens Monday night, Knuble said of Semins demotion. It might be a shot over the bow. Youve been noted.
Semin gave the Rangers an early power play when he gave right wing Ryan Callahan a retaliatory slash in the back of the legs after getting cross-checked by the Rangers captain. Callahan collapsed to the ice like a deck of cards on what looked more like a love tap than a vicious chop at the legs.
Callahan may have gone down a little easy, but its still unnecessary for Sasha to turn around and give him a slash there, Capitals right wing Troy Brouwer said. He got cross-checked, but this time of year most of the time the secondary offender is going to get the penalty.
Knuble said Callahan was baiting Semin to take a penalty and Matt Hendricks agreed, but both said Semin was wrong for taking the penalty.
No matter what, Alex knows he cant be slashing there, Hendricks said. But at the same time Callahan might have embellished to get the refs attention.
Semin also was guilty of an offensive zone tripping penalty, a habit that got him benched by Bruce Boudreau early in the season but had been effectively eliminated from his game under Dale Hunter.
While its unlikely Semin will start Game 2 on the fourth line Jason Chimera took his place on the second line on Sunday -- Hunter made it clear he doesnt want to see his gifted right wing taking any more retaliatory penalties.
You just cant do it, he said. Its up to the referee to make the call. He did get crosschecked, but thats the way hockey is and you have to be smart on the ice.