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Rambler's Top100

1 2007 . 
Blue Jackets impressed with Zherdevs improvement // The Columbus Dispatch 

Hitchcock pleased to see right wingers hustle; MacLean quashes trade rumors 

By Aaron Portzline 

DMONTON, Alberta It would have been easy for Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock to scratch right winger Nikolai Zherdev from the game Tuesday in Vancouver. 

Zherdev had been slowed in recent days by the flu, and his spot in the lineup fourth line, next to pugilist Jody Shelley and rookie Gilbert Brule was an odd fit. Still, Hitchcock stuck to his guns and stuck Zherdev in the lineup, scratching center Zenon Konopka. 
The reward was sweet.

Zherdev's winning goal in a shootout led the Blue Jackets to a 3-2 victory over the Canucks in General Motors Place, their fourth straight victory.
Immediately after the game, the Blue Jackets flew to Edmonton, where last night they faced the Oilers in Rexall Place. But the victory in Vancouver and the fact Zherdev played the hero was hard to leave behind.

"It's a huge win for us," center Dan Fritsche said. "We had to have it."

Zherdev speaks halted English. But his smile said it all as he strutted out of the dressing room after the game, basking in the glory of giving the Blue Jackets their second shootout win of the season, their first since Nov. 3.

With a sold-out crowd of 18,630 on their feet, Zherdev pounced on the puck at center ice almost before the linesman could get out of the way.
He glided through the slot as Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo eased forward from the crease, Zherdev dangling the puck as if to hypnotize Luongo.
In a flash, Zherdev fired a wrist shot past Luongo's glove, then whirled around and skated back toward the bench before he was surrounded by teammates.

Hitchcock obviously was delighted with the win but was more taken by the big picture.

"Coming off four days of being sick, Zherdev played 12 minutes, and I thought he played pretty well," Hitchcock said. "Those are better signs for me (than the shootout goal). He's such a skilled guy. He's going to score on the shootout 70 percent of the time, anyway. He's so skilled, so patient with the puck."

The "Z" love flowed last night, but the kid gloves have been taken off this season by Hitchcock and the coaching staff. When Zherdev was playing below expectations before the All-Star break, Hitchcock made him a healthy scratch. Upon his return, Zherdev was placed on the fourth line and told to work his way back into the top six forwards.

But there has been some reaching out in the other directions, too. Assistant coach Gary Agnew has picked up a little Russian, enough that he can chat with Zherdev, or at least annoy the young lad with a lengthy conversation when he's trying to ride a stationary bike.

Rumors have swelled recently that the Blue Jackets are trying to trade Zherdev, but president and general manager Doug MacLean shot that down Tuesday.

"I have not had any phone calls about Zherdev," MacLean said.

Has he placed any?

"No," MacLean said, chuckling. "I'm not going to trade Nikolai Zherdev. And he doesn't want to be traded, either. I know that because I talked to him."
The Blue Jackets, then, are in this for the long haul. On Tuesday, all was right with the world.

"(Nikolai) competed hard and played with a lot of different guys," Hitchcock said. "If he plays like that every night, we're going to be pleased. That's the message we're trying to send him and the rest of the team, too, really. It doesn't matter what your skill level is, you have to work. I think Nikolai has taken it the right way."

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