Semin working hard to crack Canadiens lineup

Alex Semin turned and shot from one foot, scoring his first goal as a Canadien on Tuesday.

BROSSARD, Que.— This is not the redemption story Alexander Semin was intent on authoring when he made the decision to sign with the Montreal Canadiens. Coming off the worst season of his NHL career (a 57-game misery in which he only recorded six goals and 13 assists), Semin has been out of Montreal’s lineup for seven straight games.

He appeared to have great chemistry with Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk through this year’s exhibition schedule. Everything looked hopeful as the Canadiens launched into their best start in franchise history—winning their first nine games. But Semin was minus-2 in Game 10 against the Vancouver Canucks and committed a couple of giveaways that led directly to goals against in the preceding game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. And his spotty overall production of just one goal and two assists wasn’t helping his cause.

Semin’s mandate was clarified by Canadiens coach Michel Therrien Friday: “We want him to make sure he’s really responsible with and without the puck.”

Semin might have his first opportunity to make it clear to his boss that he understands when the Canadiens welcome the Colorado Avalanche to the Bell Centre for Saturday night’s game. He practised with Galchenyuk and Eller Friday, and met with media members after to offer his first comments since being taken out of the lineup in late October. “I want to play tomorrow,” said Semin. “I’m working hard every day, before and after practice. When you don’t play for seven games it’s tough. I spoke to the coaches; they’ve shown me how I need to play.”

Semin has 645 games of NHL experience under his belt. At 31, he hasn’t been sulking around the practice rink looking for sympathy. “He comes to work every day, comes looking to get better and he puts forth his best effort on the ice,” said assistant captain P.K. Subban. “It’s a long season. You just don’t know what can happen. I think the impressive thing—I’m not really impressed because I think we expected that from him—is he’s had the right attitude the whole way. That’s what championship teams need… to have the right attitude.”

That’s the kind of supportive if not generic comment you expect from Semin’s teammates. A week ago, Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty was saying very similar things.

What resonates is that Therrien confirmed that Semin has been approaching this situation professionally. “One thing we recognized, I’d say the last, almost a week, he speaks during the practice,” said Therrien, who noted the typically quiet Semin has been much more audible than he was at the beginning of the season.

It’s a sign that the player, despite his situation, is feeling more at ease and more integrated with his new teammates.

Therrien wouldn’t confirm Semin’s presence for Saturday’s game, electing to make a final decision after the morning skate, but forward Brendan Gallagher seemed pretty convinced a change was imminent. “We’re excited to see him back in there,” said Gallagher. “He’s going to bring a new element to our lineup, and hopefully he adds to what we’ve been doing.”

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