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Zhitnik Brings Speed and Experience to Blue Line

by Staff Writer / Philadelphia Flyers
(Washington, D.C., December 16) – With the acquisition of defenseman Alexei Zhitnik on Saturday, the Philadelphia Flyers added a veteran presence on the blue line as well as someone who can play in every situation, according to General Manager Paul Holmgren.

"The two keys to his game, in my opinion, are his skating and his competitiveness," said Holmgren. "I think he's got good puck skills as well, but he's very competitive and can really skate. That's going to be a big plus for us here. He's always logged lots of minutes and he's a hard guy to play against."

Head Coach John Stevens welcomed Zhitnik to the lineup, as he continues to deal with the various injuries on the team that has forced him to play a very young defense that has included rookies Jussi Timonen, Alexandre Picard and Lars Jonsson as well as second-year player Randy Jones.

It will also lessen the load on Derian Hatcher, who was being heavily relied upon on the blue line of late.

"You get another very experienced player that can play in all situations. He can play big minutes and has got a wealth of experience in the league," said Stevens of Zhitnik. "I think that added experience along with some promising young players is a nice fit for us.

"I don't think there's any question that he can make us better and make people around him better. You can alleviate some pressure on the young players. At the same time, the young players can learn from the guy. I watch Hatch, who does the simple things really well, and I think when the young players see a veteran guy making the game look easy and it kind of speeds up the learning curve."

Zhitnik is ready to step into the lineup and help in any way he can, as he tried on his trademark #77 sweater for the first time for a pre-game interview with Comcast SportsNet prior to the game in Washington on Saturday night.

"Right now, Philly has made a big commitment and I'm pretty happy that the team wants me," he said. "I know when you are winning all the time it's fun and when you're losing it's always tough, but my philosophy is to take one day at a time. You just have to stay positive and usually good things happen."

Holmgren explained that the team was able to make the move due to the absence of Mike Rathje, who is on injured reserve.

"Obviously, if Mike was not in the situation he is it would have been difficult to do just because of the money," said Holmgren. "Given Mike's status, it did free up that money and we were able to do this deal."

Stevens stressed before the game against Washington that the team will continue to try to get back into the playoff hunt with 51 games remaining in the regular season.

"To me, it's really early in the season. Lots of things can happen," said Stevens. "We've got four games from now until Christmas and I'd like us to make a little push and finish strong. Then, we'll look at the next chunk of our season which is Christmas until the All-Star break."

Holmgren was also asked if this move was indicative of the fact that in no way has the team given up on this season yet.

"Absolutely. We hadn't (given up on the season) prior to this, either. [Zhitnik] is still going to be a good player for a few more years after this. It fits in with our long range plans, as well," he said.
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