Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8), of Russia, goes for the puck in the first period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, in Washington. The Devils won 3-2. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
ARLINGTON, Va. - 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 candour 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 defenceman John Erskine both signed two-year contract extensions, Holtby for $3.7 million and Erskine for $3.925 million. But centre 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 centre 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 Anaheim Ducks, who lead the Pacific Division and are second in the Western Conference.
"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."
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