Snubbed by coach Pater Laviolette, Nikolay Zherdev found himself sitting as a healthy scratch for game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Buffalo Sabres.
Laviolette apparently wants more defense from his team and the Ukranian winger is, well, not exactly known for his backchecking prowess. However, Zherdev, who cannot escape the “enigmatic” tag, does have a few things going for him. He is a supremely talented scorer who can be just as dazzling as he is frustrating to watch. In short stretches, he can perform at peak levels, like he did during the preseason (6 points in 6 games) and as a response to being benched.
Last season, Ville Leino, struggled to crack the roster and only saw time in the postseason after a spot opened up due to an injury to Jeff Carter. When he got the opportunity, he made the most of it and helped to lead the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals. He also set a rookie scoring record along the way, posting 21 points in 19 games.
This year, I believe Zherdev will have that same opportunity, although it may not be due to injuries. The Flyers were unable to score against the Sabres in the opening game of the series, even during a 5-on-3 advantage and with five total powerplays. Considering that they only gave up one goal, the defense did not seem to be a problem either. Zherdev could soon get his chance to reenter the lineup to help the Flyers put the puck in the net.
In my opinion, Zherdev is built for three things: the All-Star weekend, the powerplay, and the playoffs. Good news, the Flyers can utilize his abilities in two of those three scenarios right now. All Lavy needs to do is to swap him in for Dan Carcillo. The question is: would he make the most of that chance?
I think he would. Furthermore, I think that benching him for the first game or two would motivate him to play like a man possessed. What do you think?