The Flyers have gone through a rough patch at the worst possible time, but not all of the news is bad news in the City of Brotherly Love. After sitting most of the second half of the season, Nikolay Zherdev is playing in his 3rd straight game tonight. Three straight games may not sound like much, but it’s the first time he’s completed the trifecta in about a month. Thus far, he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.
It’s no secret that the biggest problems the Flyers have had with Zherdev have been his bouts with inconsistency. The Rangers had the same concerns when they wouldn’t match his arbitration number after the 2008-09 season. They were also the reason he was even available for the Rangers in the first place when he was traded by the Columbus Blue Jackets in a deal that gave them Fedor Tyutin. So when his GM says he’s been playing well with consistency, it means much more than if he were talking about the average healthy scratch. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren spoke about Zherdev and his strong play as of late:
“[Last time he played three straight] He played real good for half the game and then he ran out of gas. I think this time in the two games he’s played he’s looked fresh. He’s really worked hard and I’m proud of him.
“He spent a lot of time with the assistant coaches and a lot of time just by himself. He’s worked and it shows. We knew at some point that he’d come up as a pretty nice option for us to get in there. Credit to Nik, he worked out and he’s played good in the games he has played lately.”
When Philadelphia signed Zherdev as a free agent in the offseason, they signed him to a one-year deal because they wanted to see if they were getting a different player. He said all the right things as he was trying to return to the NHL (after a year in Russia). He knew there were questions about his character and work-ethic—questions that were of such concern that the former #4 overall pick was only able to ink that one-year deal worth $2 million.
Unlike many young players, there were no questions about his skill. Everyone agrees he’s a world-class talent; the only problem is that his employers have only seen the talent during stretches at a time. If he could play to his potential for 82 games straight, we’d have a player we could compare to Ilya Kovalchuk. Instead, he’s a player who’s oftentimes compared to Alexei Kovalev. No, that’s not a compliment.
If the Flyers can get some consistency down the stretch and in the playoffs from the enigmatic Russian, the offseason signing will look like a stroke of genius. Months of frustration can be wiped away with a couple of months of productivity. The talent is there—and over the last two games, the commitment has been there as well.
Just what the Eastern Conference contenders wanted to hear: the Flyers could have another talented scorer at their disposal.