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Zharkov could play Saturday

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Zharkov expected to be back in the lineup vs. Montreal.
With 10 games left in the regular season, one of the things Jacques Lemaire hopes to do is find room in the lineup for speedy winger Vladimir Zharkov.

Zharkov has eight assists in 36 appearances this season, but has been scratched from the last eight games. Lemaire said the Russian rookie could be back in the lineup when the Devils visit Montreal on Saturday.

“I do have confidence in him,” Lemaire said. "The only thing is, I don’t have room to play him regularly. I would love to give him another shot, see where he’s at, play a few games. You never know. A kid sometimes, he gets in, starts to play with confidence, get a point and he keeps going.

Lemaire tried Zharkov on a line with Brian Rolston and Dainius Zubrus at practice on Wednesday and said he just has a feeling about Zharkov’s potential to contribute down the stretch, and possibly, in the playoffs.

“I love his energy,” said the head coach. “He’s a kid that came out of the lineup because he wasn’t getting points, but I’m very pleased with the way he played defensively and the energy he brings. I’d love to give him another try. You never know in the playoffs. You get an injury, you’ll need a player. Every playoffs, there’s always someone that comes out that you don’t expect that will play really well and get points and hopefully it will be him. He’s a kid that works every day and tries to be better, so he would deserve it.”

Zharkov is focused on developing into a Devils regular.

“Hard work, keep shooting, keep skating – that’s it,” Zharkov said.

The 22-year-old is still looking for his first NHL goal. He had 11 goals, 23 assists in 69 contests with Lowell (AHL) last season. He was selected by New Jersey in the third round of the 2006 Entry Draft.

Lemaire believes Zharkov's shot selection could be the problem.

“Sometimes he misses the net, sometimes it’s too high, sometimes it’s (stopped by) the defense,” the coach said. “He doesn’t seem to hit the corner or the right spot. He doesn’t put it at the right place.”

With Zharkov's one assist in his last 20 appearances, Lemaire is rooting for him to crack the scoresheet again soon.

“He’s skating well, he’s checking well. It’s only the offense,” Lemaire explaied. “He came out of the lineup because of the offense – he didn’t get a lot offensively. And then he gets in a competition with all the other guys. He’s not overly aggressive, but he can play in any type of game. He doesn’t stop.”

Ilya Kovalchuk’s presence has benefitted the youngster. Zharkov has worked hard at improving his English, but having a fellow countryman on the team has helped Zharkov adjust to life in the NHL.

“I could see it when he played a little bit when he was there at the start,” Lemaire said. “I could see that they talked to each other and all of that. He gets excited when he’s with Kovy.”

“I like having him on the Devils,” Zharkov said. “We stick together, go to dinner. It’s nice.”

Defenseman Mark Fraser was Zharkov’s teammate in Lowell, and has also helped him learn words and phrases useful in the locker room like “carpet,” “light switch,” “skate guard.”

“His English is coming along a lot,” Fraser said. “Before, it was a lot of hand signals. But with the names of things, he still isn’t sure about everything.

Zharkov said Fraser has only taught him “good” words, because there were others that he already knew.

“The bad words, they float around here quite a bit,” Fraser joked.
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