The Philadelphia media has been all over the fact that Flyer Nikolay Zherdev has not been receptive to interviews, especially considering how the season has gone thus far. After scoring five goals in six preseason games, the Russian enigma has been held to just 1 shot on goal per game. He has been held off the penalty kill due to his defensive liabilities and has seen little to no powerplay time due to the hard work that James Van Riemsdyk has put in to earn his spot.
Three games in and he’s already been relegated to whipping boy.
I understand that blowing off reporters is frowned upon, but we’re talking about a new player in Philadelphia who speaks little English and is struggling a bit with his return to the NHL. The KHL is no slouch when it comes to competitive hockey, but it may take time for him to become acclimated again with smaller rinks and fiercer competition. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has been doing his part to answer questions with a translator, but he looks uncomfortable and sheepish in his responses. In general, answering questions in a foreign tongue about how swell it would be to receive more ice time isn’t going to sit well with anyone.
His puck-handling skills would be useful for a powerplay that has been anemic from the start of the season. Coach Peter Laviolette talked about the success of Claude Giroux and Mike Richards at all times after Monday’s game, noting that, “They’re both smart players, they read the plays well… they also give you a threat offensively, because a powerplay is five players standing trying to play offense and the penalty kill is always pressure and moving.” It may pay dividends to throw Zherdev on the ice for the powerplay, but if he’s losing out to better competition, then it’s up to him to prove that he deserves to be out there.
The simple truth is that under Laviolette, Zherdev will get as much time as he deserves. If he wants more ice time, he’s going to have to earn it. The media has been reading into this that he’s still the same lazy player that people thought he was, but competition among teammates is a good thing. He may not have tickled the twine yet in the regular season, but he still has the potential to notch twenty-plus goals as the season progresses and he finds comfort with his linemates.
If his stats and attitude remain the same in January, though, that’s a different story.