Introducing: The Sasha Index

As the postseason winds down, we finally have a chance to answer the questions that have plagued us all year. And one question above all others keeps us up at night:

Who exactly is Alexander Semin?

Sure, he’s a 6’2″, 205-lbs., Siberian-born forward for the Washington Capitals; that’s the straightforward answer. But he’s also a mystery — wrapped in an puzzle — and nestled in one of those 3D illusion posters where you have to lie to people about seeing the hidden sailboat. A hat-tricking firecracker on one night and a reckless penalty factory on another, we now know two Alex Semins. But how do we tell which is which?

Sasha can turn on a dime

In an attempt to quantify the hockey dichotomy that is Alex Semin, I am proud to introduce The Sasha IndexTM. Like the player it evaluates, the formula itself is an enigma, whose byzantine formula* of Good Sasha events (goals, assists and plus/minus) get weighed against Bad Sasha events (mistimed minor penalties and other fiendish acts that relegate him to the Sasha Box [previously known as the penalty box]).

Since Alex Semin hit the ice in the post-lockout era, fans have been treated to wondrous goals and stupefying offensive-zone stick penalties. Let’s look at the ten-game moving averages of The Sasha Index. An SI greater than zero indicates that it was Good Sasha who laced up his skates, while an SI that is negative was a game in which Bad Sasha made an appearance.

In recent years we have seen Good Sasha 2.0, such as:

April 9, 2010, vs. Thrashers

Alex Semin shoots 11 times without scoring. He’s not happy about it, but he nabs three assists anyhow. Caps win, 5-2.

February 16, 2011, at Ducks

Lesser Sasha records an assist and three goals, which kids these days are calling a hat trick, including both the tying and winning goals. Caps win, 7-6.

November 11, 2010, vs. Lightning

Semin’s dynamo performance includes a hat trick, drawing the only penalty of the night, creating five scoring chances and setting up one gorgeous Alex Ovechkin goal. Plus-five. Caps win, 6-3.

But we’ve seen bad Sasha as well.

November 4, 2009, at Panthers

In nearly 20 minutes of time on ice, Alex musters up just one solitary shot on goal. That’s it. Caps win, 4-1.

November 20, 2010, vs Flyers

Alex earns himself three trips to the Sasha Box with three separate stick penalties. Meanwhile, on offense: nothing. The shootout actually comes down to Semin vs. Boucher (at 3:36 above), whom Alex beats cleanly before ringing the post to end a bummer of a game. Flyers win, 5-4 (SO).

For those of you who doubt its power, I invite you to look at Exhibit B, the team’s win-loss record since the lockout when either Good Sasha or Bad Sasha is on the ice. We will also include Neutral Sasha, whose presence is neither positive nor negative.

Sasha Type Win %
Bad Sasha 0.426
Neutral Sasha 0.507
Good Sasha 0.693

The mere presence of the two-headed Sasha can turn a team from the Columbus Blue Jackets into the Vancouver Canucks.

So even if the goals disappear and our goalies’ groins shrivel into dust, Alex Semin’s inscrutability will be our constant. Predicting which of his multiple personalities shows up on a given night is a Washington ritual. Laud him or loathe him, Alex Semin is a two-faced hockey phenomenon. And like the Batman villain, stuff’s always more interesting with him around.

We leave you with some original art on the topic by our own Rachel Cohen:

* The Sasha Index is calculated by adding Points to Plus/Minus and subtracting PIMs associated with minor penalties.

Additional stuff by Rachel, Ian, Peter, and Chris.

  • Peter

    That’s a ghastly picture, Rachel. Good work.

  • Sturt

    Cool. But where does bongo-playing fit in the algorithm?

  • Sam W.

    You should include his games played in 2003 just to be fair. HAH!

    I like the Two Face drawing. Great work by Rachel.

  • Ian

    We didn’t have room for this in the post, but in that same November 20th Flyers game, check out Alex Semin’s defense on a Jeff Carter goal:

  • Hale

    This is hilarious. The Bad Sasha doctored picture up top looks a little like George Michael — the singer. Hmmmm. Good Sasha just looks ridiculously happy. I like it interesting. Better than the boring SC series going on now. If not the Caps, give me the Hawks and Flyers back.

  • Sergei

    I do not like the Capitals and hate Semin with a passion, but I must say this is a very well written blog post and investigation into the “mystery, wrapped in a puzzle,” and encased within a Matryoshka doll that is Alex Semin. Good read

  • AlexE

    Semin is a monster. Interesting read, hope we can have more of his good side. Love the animation, but dislike the drawing

  • I look forward to the post that applies the Sasha Index to NB19″s 2010-2011 season.

  • Peter


    Oh snap. Now Greenberg’s gonna have to look into that.

  • Livia

    “The mere presence of the two-headed Sasha can turn a team from the Columbus Blue Jackets into the Vancouver Canucks.” In our dear Sasha’s defense (or at least in defense of bad Sasha), the high correlation between his play and the Caps’ success is not by itself proof of causality. You would have to provide numbers for the rest of the players on the ice (I’m not really suggesting you take this on, though) to see how his numbers compare to others’. Even if his correlations are higher, maybe it’s because he’s more affected than others by the mood of the team as a whole, rather than the other way around. Just a thought. In either case, it’s clear that so far, he’s not likely to provide steady, calm leadership, but bursts of hockey-genius brilliance. I love the post, BTW.

  • Dark Stranger

    Overall, very well written even if I don’t agree with every point.

    Question: does a 1 shot on goal game necessarily mean a “bad” game without any other negative events as in the Nov 9, 2009 game against the Panthers? Granted, it’s less shots than we want.

    Question on the graph: without any dates or any other labels, when did this all take place? From 2006 and later, I presume.

    And then, when evaluating Semin (or for any other player), the question is …. do the positives outweigh the negatives? Judging from the graph (which goes along with my instinctive feeling), I’d say “yes’. And his overall trend is more positive than negative.

  • Peter

    @Dark Stranger,

    Neil can answer you better than I can, but the graph is of 10-game moving averages, so there’s a window of time at each point rather than a single date.

  • Sharon

    Sasha is awesome. It is very thrilling to watch him play. It is so much fun to watch a player of his caliber and talent given that he may make a fabulous play at any time. His “mystery” just makes him all the more interesting. I’ll take either of the photos of Sasha. He’s definitely easy on the eyes!

  • Dark Stranger


    Thanks for the reply. In judging from the graph, it appears that the positives outweigh the negatives and the long term trend is upward, even with the ups and downs.

  • barb

    so the morale of the article is that semin is worth the trouble because of what he can do, but you wish he would do it more often?

    can we look forward to future articles where this “good versus bad” comparision is applied tongue-in-cheek to all players on the team? i would so love a scientific dissection of the year knuble has had, with video footage showing each great goal he managed to deflect in, and yet again each time he has failed to make it to the net because he’s too slow and unskilled to keep up with the pair he’s on a line with. or fehr? sometimes so brilliant, but usually just about invisible. or bradley? or chimera? what about laich? hendricks?

    it makes no sense to me why fans expect perfection from semin game after game, but ignore the imperfection and inconsistent play from so many others on this team, including the captain and his center. why should semin be held to a higher standard when so many others are allowed to be merely mediocre, and it’s perfectly okay?

  • barb

    arg. moral. typo!

  • Peter


    I think the tone of this post is lighter than you give it credit for.

    If you’d like a more sober take on Semin’s consistency, please check out Neil’s article on the justification for his reputation as a “streaky” player.

  • barb

    i’m sure you meant the humor in good fun. i enjoy a good cheeseburger as much as the next person, and there should be no sacred cows on this team. but i would like to see everyone on this team measured by, and beaten, with the same stick. that doesn’t seem to happen much.

  • Livia

    Did all five of you have a hand in the first picture (the good Sasha/bad Sasha photos plus photoshop)? What’s your process? It must have been fun to add the finishing details, down to the golden, loopy script to match his halo. The result is very silly, but oddly coherent, and worth at least a thousand words.

  • @Livia: I /believe/ Ian was the mastermind behind the 1st picture (correct me if I’m wrong, guys). :]

  • Neil – RMNB

    @Barb Thanks for the feedback. As for:

    “why should semin be held to a higher standard when so many others are allowed to be merely mediocre, and it’s perfectly okay?”

    I think I am widely known for pointing out (and predicting) other players’ mediocrity and in no way single out Semin.

    This is a fun post. Enjoy it.

  • Sharon

    I agree with Barb. Semin is almost always singled out and beaten up for not perfect play while many others are never mentioned when they do the same things. Obviously, Sasha’s good outweighs his bad (as this article indicates) but I get very tired of only hearing negative things about him.

  • Yeah. I spent like 10 hours making that image!