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Atlantic: Zherdev's found a home in N.Y.

Monday, 10.20.2008 / 9:52 AM / Division Notebooks

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

"I think no matter who you are, a lot of times a player needs a change of scenery. It's always good for a player, I think."
-- Dan Fritsche

One of the early stars of the New York Rangers' strong start has been described by teammates as a "motormouth" with "sickening" skills.

That's how teammates see Nikolai Zherdev, who seems to have a new lease on life in the NHL in his first season on Broadway.

Zherdev, acquired over the summer after four unfulfilling seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, has staked a claim to the second-line, right wing spot, on a line centered by Brandon Dubinsky, with Aaron Voros on the other wing. Together, the trio has combined for 10 goals and 21 points in 7 games, including 2 goals and 5 points by Zherdev.

"We have good chemistry," Voros told NHL.com. "We hang out on the ice and off the ice. … We're good friends on the ice and good friends off the ice, so it's kind of seamless."

It's been a seamless transition to life in the big city for Zherdev, the Ukrainian who has been reluctant to share his knowledge of English with the local press corps, but has no problem getting his words out with his new teammates.

"Me, Dubinsky and Zherdev hang out together for a few hours each day after practice," Voros said. "The conversations are funny. A joke is a joke. I find with European players who can't speak English very well, they're more shy or tend not to ease up around people they don't know. But when he's around us, he's a motormouth. When he's around the media he's probably more shy, little less of a comfort level. But we have a good time together."

A good time is something Zherdev would never been accused of having in Columbus. The fourth pick of the 2003 Entry Draft, Zherdev never found solid footing with the Blue Jackets. He had two 20-goal seasons, including last season's 26 goals, but he was a combined minus-52 in four seasons, and had his desire and consistency repeatedly called into question.

"I think he's doing what he did in Columbus," said Dan Fritsche, who joined the Rangers along with Zherdev this summer in a deal that sent Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backman to the Blue Jackets. "He's giving 110 percent. He's really coming to play every night. Nikky has the most skill in the world. He's just sickening. The only thing that I think Columbus had a problem with was sometimes it didn't seem like he came to play, but that's definitely not the story here in New York. He's a new man here, it seems. He's playing every night, that's why he's doing so well and having so much success."

Zherdev also chafed at playing under the demanding Ken Hitchcock the last two seasons in Columbus, something coach Tom Renney said he takes into consideration when dealing with Zherdev.

"We keep the teaching to a minimum," Renney said. "You can over-coach, over-teach. Allow him to play with his instincts, naturally, and his skill. And pay attention to the structure of how we have to play to have success, but not over-doing it is important, too, because sometimes that becomes pretty heavy on a player."

Watching Zherdev fly up and down the ice, there's absolutely nothing weighing on him now.
 
"I think no matter who you are, a lot of times a player needs a change of scenery," Fritsche said. "It's always good for a player, I think."

Unhappy reunion -- Time and distance have not dulled Martin Brodeur's feelings toward Sean Avery.

Avery made pestering Brodeur his singular goal during his season and a half with the Rangers, either through word or action. He would taunt, bump and poke at Brodeur, capped by Avery's famously -- or infamously, if you prefer -- unique way of screening Brodeur during a Rangers power play during last spring's playoffs. In Game 3 of the teams' first-round series, Avery faced Brodeur and began waving his hands and stick in Brodeur's face. No penalty was called, but the NHL immediately altered its rules to make that kind of a performance an unsportsmanlike-conduct minor penalty.

Brodeur said he was happy when he heard Avery had signed with the Dallas Stars this summer.

"It's kind of nice not to have him around all the time," Brodeur told The (Bergen) Record.

The nice time ends Oct. 22, when the Stars visit the Prudential Center.

"He did his job," Brodeur said of Avery. "Whatever they (the Rangers) told him -- I don't know if they told him or he did it on his own -- but he did a good job."

It wasn't so good, however, when Avery's taunts turned personal.

"It's not a question about hockey," Brodeur said. "I totally respect what he did playing hockey. I always said that. I never said he was a bad player. I think he's a good player, effective player for his team. But (there are) things you don't do and he did."

Moving on -- When Andrew Alberts introduced himself to his new Philadelphia Flyers teammates, he had a little more to say to Scott Hartnell.

It was Hartnell who gave Alberts a concussion that led to his season ending after just 35 games last season. Alberts had dropped to his knees to play a puck along the wall when Hartnell drove him head-first into the boards.

Hartnell was suspended 2 games for the hit, but still says he did nothing wrong. Nonetheless, he still sought out Alberts to apologize.

“Obviously I didn't try to injure him, I've never done that my whole career, tried to hurt somebody,” Hartnell told the Bucks County (Pa.) Courier Times.

For his part, Alberts was accepting of Hartnell's apology and has moved forward.

“We joked around about it," Alberts said. “That's part of hockey, and I told him I would get him back in practice. We laughed about it."

Reunited and it felt sorta OK -- Desperate times among the Pennsylvania hockey teams meant desperate measures.

After being the last two teams standing in the Eastern Conference last season, early struggles by the Flyers and Penguins meant some line juggling from their coaches.

For Philadelphia, it meant going back to go forward. A big part of their 6-1 start last season was Daniel Briere centering Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble. The trio combined for 24 points in the first 8 games of last season before Gagne got hurt.

But at the start of this season, Briere was at right wing with Mike Richards at center. While that line did produce for the Flyers, coach John Stevens thought things were deficient in other areas in their 0-4 start to this season, and he reunited his top line from the start of last season Saturday in San Jose.

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“We just aren't having continuity in our three lines right now," Stevens told Comcast SportsNet.com before Saturday's game. "I thought we'd try something different. The line we tried with Richy, Danny and Gags has worked, but I think it takes away from a couple of the other lines where we had some really good things going."

The Flyers dropped a 5-4 overtime decision, but Briere scored twice and Knuble had 2 assists for his first multi-point game.

The rest of the new-look forward group included Jeff Carter centering Scottie Upshall and Joffrey Lupul, and Richards between Scott Hartnell and Steve Downie. The fourth line was Jared Ross centering Riley Cote and Arron Asham.

"This gives us some speed, grit and depth on our three lines," Stevens said. "It is something we started with last year and something we are going to try again."

In Pittsburgh, coach Michel Therrien pumped up his top line by putting Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby on the same line. Crosby centered the trio, with Malkin at left wing and Pascal Dupuis on the right.

 
 
The moves worked as Crosby had his first goal of the season, plus 3 assists, while Malkin assisted on all four Pittsburgh goals in a 4-1 win against Toronto.

"They certainly had a great game," Pens coach Michel Therrien said after the game. "They responded exactly the way we expected. They played well together. They responded on the ice the right way."

Despite the success, Therrien said not to expect his dynamic duo to stay together for too long.

"I'm not saying they're going to remain together for the rest of the season," Therrien said.

One of the advantages of having his best two offensive players on the same line was a major increase in even-strength play. After scoring just 3 goals at 5-on-5 in their first 5 games, they had 2 Saturday.

Another reason for the move was the chance for Jordan Staal to return to his natural center position. He had been playing the wing on Malkin's line, but had just 2 assists and a minus-2 rating in 5 games. Staal didn't get on the score sheet Saturday, but his 3 shots on goal was his most active offensive night since the team returned from Europe.

"It will give Jordan a chance to get back to his natural position," Therrien said Friday, "so there are a lot of positives about it."

News and notes -- Philadelphia has brought Bill Barber back to the organization, hiring him as a scouting consultant. Barber was a Hall-of-Fame player for the club in the 1970s and coached the team for parts of two seasons. … The Flyers have signed an affiliation agreement with the Mississippi Sea Wolves of the ECHL. … The Flyers have shifted their game against the Devils on Saturday, Oct. 25, from 7 p.m. to 4 p.m. The Philadelphia Phillies will host Game 3 of the World Series that night, and the two buildings are in the same complex. … Rangers coach Tom Renney might have given the Detroit Red Wings some bulletin-board material prior to their game Saturday. Renney rested goalie Henrik Lundqvist Friday against Toronto and started him Saturday in Detroit. When asked how he devised his goaltending rotation, Renney said, "I like Henrik to beat the Detroit Red Wings." When asked if he really said beat, Renney smirked and replied, "Yeah." The Red Wings won 5-4 in overtime. … More humor from Renney: When asked whether Lauri Korpikoski's injury was of the upper body or lower body variety, he replied, "It's whether you're holding your arms up here (raised his arms over his head) or down here (dropped his arms to his side)." Korpikoski sat out Friday's game against the Maple Leafs with a wrist injury, but played Saturday against Detroit. … Crosby had a 1-2-3 game Saturday. His third-period goal was No. 100 of his NHL career; his assist on Pascal Dupuis' first-period goal was No. 200; and his assist on Miroslav Satan's second-period goal gave him 300 points. … Brian Rolston's ankle injury allowed Devils rookie Petr Vrana to make his NHL debut Saturday against the Capitals, and he made it a memorable one, scoring off a Patrik Elias pass. The assist was the 365th of Elias' career, moving him past Scott Niedermayer for the franchise's all-time lead. … Rick DiPietro's days as a spectator finally ended Saturday in Florida, when he stopped 34 of 36 shots in a 2-0 loss to the Panthers. "I felt good," DiPietro said. "It's nice to, obviously, be back and contribute. Unfortunately we lost, obviously, but nice to get my feet wet and finally see some action." It was DiPietro's first game action since the last game of the preseason, also against the Panthers.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.


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