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|24 октября 2008
Zherdev Aiming for "Next Level" // NY Post
All for one and one for all, the Rangers New York Rangers are off to a 6-2-1 start despite scoring only 23 goals. They have their priorities straight, now need more guys shooting straight.
"I'm not concerned about scoring yet," said coach Tom Renney yesterday. "I think our power play will get back on track.
"At even strength it might not be five guys [carrying the team], might be seven or eight because we might not have 50-goal people. We might be more of a team [than previous], but in the future I may have to push the objective of scoring. And that's not a bad thing."
Actually, it's a necessary thing for a team that chose not to re-sign an aging and difficult-to-complement Jaromir Jagr Jaromir Jagr and, in-effect, replaced him with Nikolai Zherdev, who is younger but may be difficult to complement, too.
Tonight Zherdev returns to Columbus, the scene of his first four NHL years of underachievement, with two goals and three assists in his first nine games as a Ranger.
"To me, he's a 40-plus goal scorer," Blue Jackets Coach Ken Hitchcock said about the 2003 fourth-overall pick. "When I took over in November , he was moody and very unhappy but he made big changes."
So have the Rangers, who sent second-pair defenseman Fedor Tyutin Fedor Tyutin and extra defenseman Christian Backman to the Blue Jackets for right wing Dan Fritsche and Zherdev.
The blueline-challenged Blue Jackets, who struck out on Ranger Wade Redden in free agency, were happy Glen Sather called to offer his surplus, Tyutin. But nobody trades a 40-goal potential scorer for a second-pair defenseman and an extra guy unless they drafted a dud, or wanted to dump Zherdev's $3.25 million salary, or feared the RFA-to-be is returning to Russia next season.
Now Zherdev has 73 games to convince the Rangers they don't want him to return to Russia next season.
"Nicky is a little different, a relaxed guy who doesn't have a stressed-out attitude, just enjoys playing the game," said Fritsche. "Last year, he became a better team player on and off the ice and he has taken it a step farther this year.
"He's been working hard and all the guys love him."
The love may become unrequited if Zherdev, who likely will move tonight to a line with Chris Drury and Markus Naslund, starts attempting more than just that toe drag move.
"He's a good guy, really coachable," said Renney. "His dangle instincts are a little different than a North American guy and I don't want to take that away from him. He's a great passer.
"At the same time, it's incumbent on him to work on shooting, which he can do very well, and go hard to the net to make something happen.
"I haven't seen [nonchalance]. What I see is a guy who slows down a little to make the right decision. We want him to make a decision and go with it."
Asked about his game and expectations of a breakout, the English-shy Zherdev smiled and said: "Next level."
Without it, the Rangers barely will make the playoffs.