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Nikolishin ready to stick it to opposition // "The Washington Times"
By Dave Fay
While training this summer in Switzerland, Washington Capitals center Andrei Nikolishin ran into an old friend, Vladimir Urzinov, his coach years ago at Dynamo Moscow and coach of the silver medal-winning Russian team at the Nagano Olympics.
Coaches being what they are, nitpickers, Urzinov watched Nikolishin play and promptly told him he was using the wrong stick. This came after the center had played five seasons in the Russian Elite League and seven seasons in the NHL.
"He told me my stick was not really right for what I was trying to do, that I lost too much power when I shoot using a short blade. He said I should use a longer blade," Nikolishin said yesterday after a workout.
Nikolishin is 28. Telling him he should change blades at this stage of his career is like telling Julia Child she should use margarine instead of butter.
Maybe Urzinov should stop by Piney Orchard Ice Arena and examine some more sticks. In three exhibition games so far, Nikolishin is the Caps' leading scorer with three goals and four points, twice as many points and one more goal than Peter Bondra and Jaromir Jagr have combined.
There could be a variety of reasons for the increased scoring, but switching sticks and blades apparently didn't hurt. He is still using a shaft made by Eastern, but he is now using the model made for Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, plus a longer blade.
"It took me a long time to get used to the longer blade," Nikolishin said. "The shaft is different, but it doesn't really matter with the shaft. Urzinov says now I have to shoot more."
Nobody is surprised Nikolishin suddenly has found the range. He has excellent hockey sense and good abilities, but like most European-trained centers he was taught shooting was something left to wings.
Last year the Caps coaches made strong efforts to convince the rugged 215-pound left-hander to take advantage of his brute strength and try shooting more. He listened for a while but soon reverted to form; nonetheless, he finished with 13 goals, one short of his NHL high.
"He's shooting more now," said Bondra, Nikolishin's left wing. "Before I didn't see him do that, but this year I guess he realizes if you're going to score a goal, first you have to make the shot. Now maybe he's thinking like a goal-scorer. He's playing well, he's playing hard and it looks like he's having fun."
"We hope what he's doing is a good sign for the regular season," assistant
coach Tim Army said. "He's always provided good solid play, he's good away
from the puck and he's very strong. But the goal he scored the other night
against Tampa [Bay] should show him that any time you put the puck on net,
it's an opportunity to score. Generally that shot would have been stopped."