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Southeast: Ovi's dad sees feline qualities in Semin

by Mike G. Morreale /
Does Washington Capitals forward Alexander Semin remind you of a panther on the prowl?

Alex Ovechkin's father, Mikhail, seems to think so.

In a recent interview with Russian reporter Pavel Lysenkov of Sovetsky Sport, Semin was asked to name an animal that would best describe him on the ice.

Semin declined to respond; instead, Ovechkin's father, who happened to be nearby, was asked to provide an answer.

"A panther," Mikhail Ovechkin said. "There's something feline like about Sasha's game. And how about how he scored that goal against Philadelphia (Jan. 17)? He crept in and bam."

Semin had a goal and an assist in that 5-3 victory against the Flyers at Verizon Center. He's been one of the hottest point-producers in the League over the last two months. In 26 games since returning from a wrist injury, Semin has 16 goals, 36 points and a plus-19 rating. He entered the weekend with 25 goals, 53 points and a plus-20 rating in 44 games.

Semin, who will join the Russian Olympic team for the first time next month, is looking forward to the experience in Vancouver. He'll board a plane to the Winter Games on Feb. 14.

"There's no need to get butterflies," Semin told Lysenkov. "That might even hamper you a little bit. You just need to go out on the ice and play, like any other game. If you remember Quebec (at the 2008 World Championships), there was seething passion and excitement. But when the game starts, everything disappears.

"My parents are coming on Feb. 16. I don't know if I'll be able to see them in Vancouver. Probably only in the stands," Semin said. "Basically I don't know what is going to happen there, how we will be quartered in the village. But I'm not really thinking about that. If you imagine one thing, then nonetheless something else will actually happen."

Young Cats -- While the Florida Panthers anxiously await the return of David Booth to the lineup and while leading scorer Nathan Horton is out until sometime after the Olympic break with a broken tibia, coach Peter DeBoer will continue to find his offense elsewhere.

"That's today's NHL everyone's dealing with," said DeBoer on Horton's injury. "To have him and Booth on the sidelines means we're going to have to really be good defensively and get contributions from some other people. The nice thing, I guess the silver lining, is that a couple of the 4-5 weeks he'll be out will be the Olympic break, so that helps a little bit as far as number of games missed."

DeBoer received some of that secondary scoring Tuesday in a 2-1 victory against the Montreal Canadiens. Center Shawn Matthias, recalled from the team's American Hockey League affiliate in Rochester on Jan. 18, notched his first 2-goal game since Jan. 19, 2008. Michael Repik, recalled from Rochester on Tuesday morning, assisted on Matthias' second goal.

Both players made the most of their fourth-line duty against the Canadiens, and as a result, bought themselves another game with the big club, Friday against the Eastern Conference-leading Washington Capitals. Matthias finished with 7:56 of playing time and Repik spent 10:39 on the ice.

The fourth line, which includes Kenndal McArdle, was a staple for Rochester. The trio is obviously beginning to click in Florida at an opportune time.

"When they send you down, you just have to keep working every day and keep getting better," Repik said. "You want to show them you can be here."

That's quite a change in attitude from previous call-ups.

"Last year, (Matthias) kind of had the deer-in-the-headlights thing going," DeBoer said.

McArdle, who has played 18 games for the Panthers, scored his first goal of the season in a 2-0 victory against Toronto on Saturday.

Niitty owns Atlanta -- Antero Niittymaki's mastery over the Atlanta Thrashers is reaching ridiculous heights.

The Tampa Bay Lightning goalie boosted his career record against the Thrashers to 15-0-0 after turning aside 37 shots in a 2-1 shootout win at the St. Pete Times Forum on Jan. 23.

Niittymaki was 13-0-0 against Atlanta while in Philadelphia, and now is 2-0 in 2009-10 after a pair of triumphs in overtime and the shootout.

Teammate Jeff Halpern made certain Niittymaki would notch his 15th straight win against their Southeast Division foe when he scored the lone goal in the fifth round of the shootout. Halpern had entered the game 0-for-3 in shootouts over his 10-season career.

After watching Atlanta's first shooter, Maxim Afinogenov, miss the net, Niittymaki denied Ilya Kovalchuk, Bryan Little, Rich Peverley and Todd White to secure the win.

"Every time we play them, I feel lucky to win those games," Niittymaki said. "Sometimes we're able to win some decent games, a couple of shootouts, but I don't know, I don't really focus on that. These two points for us were pretty big for us anyways, it doesn't matter who we play against."

The victory against Atlanta also was the second of three straight for Niittymaki last week. He followed the effort against the Thrashers with a 33-save, 3-0 victory against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday -- his first shutout of the season and the fifth of his career. It marked the first three-game winning streak for the team since Jan. 19-27, 2009.

It was Niittymaki's seventh straight start, as Mike Smith has been sidelined with a neck strain. During his three-game win streak, Niittymaki has stopped 90 of 93 shots (.968 save percentage) with a 0.95 goals-against average.

"There's something feline like about Sasha's game. And how about how he scored that goal against Philadelphia (Jan. 17)? He crept in and bam."
-- Mikhail Ovechkin, Alex's dad, on Alexander Semin's game

"You get into the rhythm the more you play," Niittymaki said.

Power outage -- What once was a strength for the Atlanta Thrashers recently has become an Achilles heel.

Atlanta's power-play, which was thriving earlier this season, entered the weekend ranked 18th in the League with a 17.5-percent efficiency. The team has produced just seven goals in its last 81 opportunities, including a 1-for-20 streak over the last four matches (2-1-1).

"We are not far from the playoffs, but we can't put two, three wins together," forward Slava Kozlov said. "Unfortunately, the power play has been quiet. You can win games if your power play gets hot. A team with a hot power play can win games even if it didn't play very well."

As strange as it may sound, the Thrashers are persevering despite their power-play woes. They're currently sixth in the Eastern Conference with 56 points.

The Thrashers are 6-4-1 since snapping a nine-game winless streak Jan. 7 with a 2-1 shootout decision against the Rangers. The club's 4-3 defeat of the Flyers on Thursday marked the first time since early December the team notched consecutive victories.

"We are trending to better play," defenseman Ron Hainsey said. "We have out-chanced or out-shot the other team and have still lost. That's mildly frustrating. Our shots-against are down. Our goals-against are down. Our team play is much better. We haven't capitalized power play-wise at all, but we are working on that. The penalty kill has had some good nights, it's had some bad nights. We all feel our team play has been the best it's been the last few weeks."

Contact Mike Morreale at

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