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Sharks' Alexei Semenov becoming solid performer // Oakland Tribune
SAN JOSE -- Over the course of a few weeks, Sharks defenseman Alexei Semenov has gone from mostly forgotten player to experimental forward to now solid blue-line contributor.
Semenov has taken advantage of the ice time he has received in the wake of recent injuries to Dan Boyle, Rob Blake and Brad Lukowich. Semenov has been either even or had a plus-rating in 14 of his past 15 games. It has been a big change for Semenov, who earlier this season had trouble even getting into games because he was the seventh defenseman in a six-player blue-line unit.
"I'm getting the chance to play a lot with Marc-Edouard (Vlasic) and it seems like we've been doing pretty good," said Semenov, who has four assists and a plus-six rating. "I'm just trying to keep that positive feeling. When you're playing every game, you begin to find a rhythm."
Sharks coach Todd McLellan had been searching for a way get the 6-foot-6 Semenov on the ice more, which is why he even tried him as a fourth-line forward for several games while Jody Shelley was out.
"The first game, I didn't know what to do," said Semenov, who now has played in 22 games. "I was asking players, 'Where should I go on the breakout?' I talked to (Mike) Grier the whole game. But it got better with each game. I just want to be out there."
McLellan said Semenov's recent play has created a positive domino effect among the blue-liners.
"He's making other people better because they realize when Danny Boyle gets back, somebody is going to be out of the lineup," McLellan said. "So now you're seeing Christian (Ehrhoff) stepping up his game, too."
With the Sharks set to open next season with a European road trip, the players appear to be split. The Europeans are excited about the possibility of playing in Helsinki, Finland. But Canadian and American players aren't so keen about the long plane flights.
"It will give my friends and family a chance to come watch me play," said Milan Michalek, a native of the Czech Republic. "It would be better if it was in Prague. But playing in Helsinki will be OK, too."
Countered Vlasic: "I probably could go without it. I've never been to Europe. But it means camp opens two weeks earlier. We should cover North America first. Let's go to cities like Kansas City, Portland and Seattle where we don't have teams."
The Sharks confirmed Monday they've been invited by the NHL to play in Europe but also said that it hasn't been decided whom they would play, where or how many games. Over the weekend, though, it was reported that the Sharks would play Calgary twice in Helsinki.
Blake opened last season in London as a member of the Los Angeles Kings and seemed less than enthusiastic about the prospects of going to Finland, which has a 10-hour time difference with California.
"It's a long way to go," he said.
But Douglas Murray, a native of Sweden, is looking forward to playing in Finland -- even if the two countries have a heated sports rivalry.
"I'm not going there representing Sweden," Murray said. "When I'm wearing a San Jose Sharks jersey, all that goes out the window."
No 'dog days'
McLellan said the Sharks haven't skated well since their 6-5 victory over Detroit on Jan. 17. So that was the focus of Monday's practice and will be again today as the coaching staff takes advantage of the four-day break between games.
"There's very little rest from one drill to the next," he said. "We're up and down the ice fast and keep their heart rate up."
One other thing: McLellan made it clear he's not a fan of the phrase "dog days of the season," which is sometimes used to describe the January-February portion of the NHL schedule.
"All we do when we talk about these 'dog days' is let ourselves off the hook," McLellan said. "I'm not buying into the dog days. Do we feel good every day when we come to the rink? No, we're human. But you don't give yourself permission to take days off. It's not happening here. Not us."