Flyers’ Zherdev making case to remain in lineup

NHLHS Philadelphia Flyers’ correspondent David Strehle thinks that Zherdev’s play has to give Laviolette something to think about with Shelley being eligible to return for Saturday’s contest.

Last night’s Philadelphia Flyers’ 5-3 victory over the Montreal Canadiens provided a glimpse into just how much of a force that winger Nikolay Zherdev can be for the Orange-and-Black.

NEWARK, NJ - NOVEMBER 27: Nikolay Zherdev  of the Philadelphia Flyers celebrates a goal against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on November 27, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Flyers 2-1 in the shoot out. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The winger had been a healthy scratch Saturday and is probably only back in the lineup because of a suspension to Jody Shelley

But he is definitely giving head coach Peter Laviolette something to contemplate with Shelley being eligible to return for Saturday’s contest with the New York Rangers.

Zherdev notched a goal and an assist last night, his second straight contest with a goal, and now has 11 on the year.

Playing with Jeff Carter and James van Riemsdyk, the line was the best for the Flyers the entire game. 

The trio scored a combined four goals and seven points and 15 shots on goal, as they were rewarded for their hard work and dominating shifts.

The difference in Zherdev’s play from the games just prior to Laviolette sending him to the press box are profound.

Instead of loafing at center ice and waiting for a teammate to take puck possession away from the opponent and spring him the other way, he skated relentlessly in his back checking efforts.  I counted at least three times that Zherdev got back to break up Montreal passes, when it appeared they had the potential for an odd-man rush readying to go in on Sergei Bobrovsky

Instead of attempting a solo dangle through three defenders and inevitably turning over possession of the puck and causing an odd-man rush for the opponents, he used his teammates and made some beautiful passes.

And Zherdev made the correct decision to get the puck to the net on the goal he scored.  He noticed Carter heading to the net and took a defenseman with him, creating traffic in the path of Carey Price.  The puck may have deflected off of the defensemen’s skate and into the net, but they count just the same as an end-to-end dash.

This is the Zherdev that Laviolette wants to see on a consistent basis.  And the coach knows that if he plays this way, Zherdev gives the Flyers another lethal scorer to throw at the opposition.  And because of Zherdev’s play, Laviolette rewarded him with ice time of 13:51, his high since December 1st. 

With improved play comes increased ice time, and Zherdev should see more time on the power play as well. 

Lethal Lines

It seemed that the players on the newly formed line complimented each other rather well.  Both Zherdev and Carter have shown the propensity for trying to do too much individually.  But last night they both set up their teammates with excellent passes, as well as getting themselves into open shooting lanes while away from the puck.

With van Riemsdyk crashing the net and the offensive capabilities of Carter and Zherdev, this could be yet another elite scoring line for Laviolette to deploy. 

The Ville Leino-Danny Briere-Scott Hartnell line has been quiet the past couple of games, but still remains the top trio.  It looks like this could be the team’s most stable of lines, and should be kept together unforeseen circumstances arise.  When Leino is cycling, Briere is creating, and Hartnell is crashing the net, there are few more-effective lines in the NHL.

The Claude Giroux-Mike Richards-Andreas Nodl line should provide a decent amount of offense.  Richards and Giroux have shown chemistry while on special teams and have combined for some memorable shorthanded goals this season.  Nodl picked up 10 points on his first 14 contests this season, by far his best offensive production of his brief NHL career.  While he has slumped to just two points in his last 10 games, including none in his last five, the chances have still been there.

The beauty of the situation for Laviolette is that he has natural centers in Richards, Briere, Carter, Giroux, Darroll Powe, and Blair Betts, so he can mix and match as he sees fit.

MONTREAL - NOVEMBER 16: James van Riemsdyk  of the Philadelphia Flyers and Lars Eller  of the Montreal Canadiens battle for the puck in the corner during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on November 16, 2010 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

Continued Improvement from van Riemsdyk

I recently wrote a piece on the rejuvenation of van Riemsdyk, and he is continuing to make strides. 

After not scoring a goal in his first 17 games of the 2010-11 campaign and enduring a four game stint in the press box, van Riemsdyk has netted seven goals in his last 12 contests. 

Credit his resurgence to doing the things that make him effective.  

The six-foot, three-inch, 200 pounder is once again using his size to his advantage by playing a more physical game, along the wall and in the dirty spots in front of the net.  

By hitting the opponent’s zone with speed and backing off the defense, van Riemsdyk is giving himself room with which to create offensively.  By doing so, he has options – either take the puck to the net, or pass to an open teammate if a defender commits to stopping him. 

Maybe most important is van Riemsdyk’s play around the net.  He is battling for position in front of the opponent’s goaltenders, screening, and putting home rebounds.  Last night’s game-winner was attained by going to the net, as he picked up a Zherdev rebound and putting it past Price.

Coincidetally, that goal was van Riemsdyk’s second game-winner of the year, both coming against Price and the Canadiens. 

Home Town Advantage?

The three stars as selected by the home town Habs’ were:  1)  Bobrovsky (38 saves)  2)  Brian Gionta (Goal, -1)  3)  PK Subban (Goal, Assist, -2). 

Sure, Gionta scored a goal on one of his eight shots,  but he really wasn’t much of a factor in the outcome of the game.  And his goal was definitely one that Bobrovsky would like to have back, as it was a soft one that somehow trickled through the Philadelphia netminder’s pads.

Subban had a goal, an assist, and a highlight reel hit on Daniel Carcillo, but he also had two horrific giveaways that directly led to Flyers’ scores. 

Included in that was mess was a bad turnover when Subban had a clear path out of the zone.  Richards coralled Subban’s giveaway at the blue line and fed Giroux, who was all alone in front of Price, for the clinching goal with less than five minutes left in regulation. 

Montreal never recovered after that play.

Meanwhile, Carter had a goal, three points and was a +3; van Riemsdyk chipped in with two goals and was a +3; and Zherdev had a goal and an assist and was a +2.

I’m guessing that the writer who determined the stars of the game was looking through Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge glasses.  Maybe it was important to accentuate the positives, especially with the ongoing talk of the issues between Subban and Richards. 

But I’m sure the Philly players are much happier to just take the two points, and leave the self-indulgence behind in Quebec.

Pronger Hurt

There was some bad news in the win. 

Linchpin defenseman Chris Pronger left the game with what the club would describe only as a “lower body injury”.  There didn’t seem to be one specific play in which Pronger was hurt, and it is not known at this time if he will miss any additional games.

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Taking a Flyer:  Philadelphia was 1-3 on the power play, while Montreal went 1-2…Gionta led all shooters with eight shots on goal.  Carter was next with seven, and van Riemsdyk had six…defenseman Kimmo Timonen played 18:48, and well below his average of 22:34.  It was the first time in 15 games that he has logged less than 20 minutes of ice time in a game…defenseman Andrej Meszaros added another +2 in last night’s contest, increasing his NHL-leading total to +21 for the season.

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David Strehle
NHLHS Philadelphia Flyers Correspondent
dstrehle@nhlhotstove.com
Twitter: @PhilaDAVEia