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Caps' Semin is first Clutch Scorer // USA TODAY
Alexander Semin's eight goals and 16 points during October take on added meaning when you factor in that reigning MVP Alex Ovechkin had five points during the month.
When the Washington Capitals star missed a game against the Nashville Predators on Oct.28 to spend time in Russia with his ailing grandfather, Semin had one of his best games of the season.
Semin's offensive outburst earned him USA TODAY's Clutch Scorer award for the season's first month. The computerized formula measures a player's contributions when the game is tight.
The Tampa Bay Lightning's Mike Smith was Clutch Goalie. He went 2-2-2, including a 1-0 shootout loss, even though his team scored 10 goals in his games. He led the league with 35.3 saves a game and was second in penalty kills a game (5.3).
Fourteen of Semin's points met the clutch criteria, including an overtime goal against the Dallas Stars. Against the Predators, he set up a go-ahead goal, scored one in the third period and had a shootout goal.
"(Ovechkin) is the star of our team, but Alex Semin is, I think, the best player in the league right now," said his linemate, Brooks Laich. "Everything he touches turns to gold and goes in the net."
Semin also jumped one spot to second in the latest MVP vote of USA TODAY's NHL Power Rankings panel. Buffalo Sabres winger Thomas Vanek continues to lead that category.
"Everything is going as best as I could have hoped for," Semin, 24, said through an interpreter after the Nashville game. "I just need to convert my chances into goals. I have no idea really (why things are going so right now). I just go out there and play."
One reason could be health. His start last season was derailed by a sprained ankle, which he aggravated when he returned. He missed a total of 19 games and wasn't at full strength until March, leading to a 31-point drop in scoring from 2006-07.
Semin is also playing about two minutes a game more this season, mostly because he's getting time on the penalty kill.
"He's been really, really good all year, and it's great to see," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It's great to see the emotion on him when otherlinemates and teammates are scoring. I really believe he is coming of age now."
Ovechkin has returned from Russia, practiced Monday and is scheduled to play tonight vs. the Ottawa Senators after missing two games. Once he gets his game going, the Capitals will feature major scoring threats on their top two lines.
"This is my job to do these things to help my team win -- to score, to pass," Semin said.
*See the full list of clutch skaters and goalies along with this week's Power Rankings vote at nhl.usatoday.com.