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Charged up

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD – Alexander Semin is ready to play. Now, he’s just waiting for his opportunity.

A healthy scratch for the last seven games, Semin has been hard at work at practice trying to find the form the Canadiens hoped he’d exhibit when they signed him to a one-year contract in late July. Unfortunately, things didn’t click for the Russian winger early on and he’s been watching his new team rack up wins and points from the press box since October 27th in Vancouver.

While it hasn’t been an easy time for the Canadiens’ No. 13 as of late, he is still chomping at the bit for the chance to hit the ice for something other than a practice sooner rather than later.

“When you don’t play in seven games, after that it’s tough to get started. But, I want a fresh start and I want to play. I’ve been learning more while I’ve been out of the lineup. I’ve been talking to the coaches. They’ve been showing me how I need to play,” offered Semin, who put up one goal, three points and a minus-1 differential in 10 games with the Canadiens during the 2015-16 campaign. “I know what they want from me, and that’s to score goals.”

Semin’s chance to suit up could come as soon as Saturday night against the Colorado Avalanche at the Bell Centre. On Friday, head coach Michel Therrien featured the 31-year-old on a line with Alex Galchenyuk and Lars Eller as Torrey Mitchell missed practice due to family reasons which relegated Devante Smith-Pelly to the fourth line. For his part, the Canadiens’ bench boss even indicated that he hadn’t yet confirmed his lineup for Saturday’s contest on home ice.

“I was paired with these guys when I got to Montreal,” shared Semin, an 11-year NHL veteran, who scored a career-high 40 goals and also collected a career-high 84 points with the Washington Capitals in 2009-10. “I like playing with them. They’re very talented players.”

If Semin does get the call on Saturday, Therrien has very clear expectations for him.

“If he’s in the lineup, we want to make sure that he’s responsible with and without the puck like we ask all of our players to be,” explained Therrien, who isn’t necessarily disappointed in Semin’s lack of production on offense, per say, early on this year. “We can’t always judge a guy’s performance on the number of goals and assists he picks up. You can’t make that mistake. That’s not the way we judge how our players are doing. We’re happy when they perform, but like I said before, above all else players need to be responsible with and without the puck. We preach that a lot and it’s the same thing for everybody.”

Defenseman P.K. Subban has seen enough of Semin in practice and games to know what the former 13th overall draft pick can potentially bring to the table when he’s firing on all cylinders. There’s no question in Subban’s mind that Semin can be a valuable asset in the long run, especially at his best.

“He’s a great teammate. He comes to work every day and he’s always looking to get better. He always puts forth his best effort on the ice. He does exactly what he’s asked to do and that’s all we can ask,” confided Subban, who likened Semin’s current situation to that of fellow newcomer Paul Byron patiently waiting his turn to get the nod to see game action. “He had to wait a long time to get in the lineup, but he got in. It’s a long season, though. You just don’t know what could happen. I think the impressive thing is that he’s had the right attitude the whole way. It’s great to see. That’s what championship teams need. Whether you’re in or out of the lineup, you need to have the right attitude. He’s a world-class player, so when he’s on the top of his game, there are very few players who can do what he does when he has the puck. He has the ability to make guys around him better. There’s no question when he gets his opportunity, he’ll be ready.”

You really do get the sense that Therrien believes that, too.

“Alex’s effort, pace and execution have been faster over the last week,” concluded Therrien, whose squad will skate again on Saturday morning on the South Shore. “That wasn’t the case during the first few weeks of the season.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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