In the lineup again, Flyers' Zherdev flourishing

436004.jpg

In the lineup again, Flyers' Zherdev flourishing

Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Posted: 10:50 a.m.
By Tim PanaccioCSNPhilly.com
OTTAWA -- Considering that Nikolay Zherdev sat the majority of the second half of this NHL season, its a tribute to him that he came out of the press box colder than Siberia but looked strong in consecutive games for the Flyers last weekend.

Hell make his third straight start in the lineup Tuesday against the Senators. He hasnt played three in a row since the beginning of March.

That the Flyers lost both to New Jersey and the New York Rangers is irrelevant to this story only because Zherdev was clearly one of coach Peter Laviolettes best players.

General manager Paul Holmgren admits its not easy being the forgotten man and then being asked to contribute in critical games down the stretch.

The last time this happened to Zherdev happened to be in this very city Feb. 26 in Ottawa. One day removed from clearing waivers, he sat down with Holmgren and Laviolette and they mapped out what they expected of the Russian winger for the rest of the season.

He played real good for half the game and then he ran out of gas, Holmgren said. I think this time in the two games hes played hes looked fresh. Hes really worked hard and Im proud of him.

He spent a lot of time with the assistant coaches and a lot of time just by himself. Hes worked and it shows. We knew at some point that hed come up as a pretty nice option for us to get in there. Credit to Nik, he worked out and hes played good in the games he has played lately.

Zherdev assisted on Jeff Carters goal in New Jersey and almost set up a second Carter goal that game. If Carter had scored, maybe the Flyers wouldnt have lost 4-2 and the Atlantic Division race would be over. Zherdev scored during the Flyers 3-2 shootout loss to the Rangers this weekend.

Initially, the Flyers' record with him in the lineup wasnt very good 4-4-1 at the start. Yet is has gradually improved.

The Flyers are 29-18-6 in games when Zherdev is in the lineup. When he scores, they are 7-3-4. His teammates give him props for showing up under difficult circumstances.

Yeah, that was really impressive what Zherdev did, playing that last game in Jersey and then coming in Sunday and playing really well, said Sean ODonnell.

He had a huge goal. There was another one in the third period, I dont know if it was the first or third but it was down there, it was a one-timer and Henrik Lundqvist made a great save on him.

Thats hats off to him for going through what he has gone through this year, and come in. This is a tough stretch right now. We are playing some tough teams. I thought he has played really well.

Zherdev, who has almost nothing to say win or lose even when he plays was thankful to be back in the Flyers lineup.

It feels good. Its important to me, he said.

Thats about all you get from Zherdev to round out a story.

Hes a pretty quiet guy, ODonnell said. I dont know, its kind of like Sergei Bobrovsky. I dont know if its the Russian in him, but there isnt a whole lot of emotion there.

But I thought Sunday there were times where he wanted the puck and he did some good things out there. It was exciting to see as a teammate.

Theres a chance Zherdev could see some playing time in the playoffs. Theres obviously some chemistry with both Carter and Claude Giroux and its also apparent that Andreas Nodls stock has dipped lately.

A lot depends upon injuries and Zherdev playing both sides of the puck with equal vigor.

Hes a good player and I like playing with him, Giroux said. He makes plays. When he's hard on the puck and wins battles, it makes my job a lot easier and we saw it Sunday. He can skate and he can score goals too.

Carter echoed ODonnells sentiments that it hasnt been easy for Zherdev to just come into the lineup cold and fit. Yet hes shown he can do it.

Its not easy hes been around, hes been practicing and working hard, Carter said. Im glad to see him get an opportunity. He played well in Jersey and Sunday.

Ive never done it, but Im sure its not easy hanging out and just practicing and then going into a game. All things considered, he did a great job for us.

So why has it taken so long for Zherdev to "get it"?

You know, its just one of those things for whatever reason, Holmgren said. After we waived him we had a nice talk to him and since that time hes been a pretty good soldier for us. Now hes getting an opportunity to play and show what he can do.
Loose pucks
Bobrovsky will start in net Tuesday in Ottawa. ... Neither Danny Briere (sore groin) nor Blair Betts (left knee) made the trip to Ottawa. Lines from Mondays practice are expected tonight: Ben Holmstrom centering Scott Hartnell and Kris Versteeg; Claude Giroux centering Zherdev and Carter; Mike Richards centering James van Riesmdyk and Ville Leino; Darroll Powe centering Nodl and Dan Carcillo. The Flyers are 10-8-6 since Versteeg arrived. They are 1-3-1 when he scores a goal. In the last 11 games, the Flyers have had seven one-goal losses. You think the power play (2-for-last-19 over that span) could have made a difference? You bet it could.

We continue to work on it, Laviolette said. We feel we have the right people out there. Skill people. The power play can be better. Well certainly be counting on that when playoffs rolls around. Kimmo Timonen said the Flyers are trying to be too cute and fancy right now on the power play. Perhaps because Chris Pronger isnt around. I dont disagree with that being fancy and get more inside the paint, Laviolette said. Just bringing the puck to the net. Scott Hartnells goal in Pittsburgh is a perfect example. Send it low and just slam it at the net. And if that doesnt go in, maybe it kicks out to the guy coming in from the back door.
E-mail Tim Panaccio at tpanotch@comcast.net

Related: Laviolette addresses Flyers' shootout woes Buy Flyers gear

Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare added to World Cup rosters

panaccio_720x405_693409347859.jpg

Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare added to World Cup rosters

Turns out the hip and abdominal surgeries for both Flyers captain Claude Giroux and rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere weren’t a deterrent from making their countries’ respective World Cup of Hockey rosters.
 
Also going will be center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who was added to Team Europe’s roster.
 
All three Flyers were “add-ons” to Team Canada, Team North America and Team Europe as the final rosters were announced on Friday night.
 
The World Cup of Hockey tournament begins in September 17 and ends on Oct. 1.

Giroux, 28, has twice represented Canada at the World Championships and once in World Junior competition.
 
Gostisbehere, 23,  represented the U.S. internationally once the World Juniors. Team North America is all players 23-and-under or “Young Stars” as some refer to them.
 
Despite his poorest offensive output in three years, Giroux still led the Flyers with 67 points this season, playing in his 500th career game and scoring his 500th point. He won the Bobby Clarke Trophy as team MVP.
 
Gostisbehere took the NHL by storm as a November fill-in for the injured Mark Streit and ended up becoming a Calder Trophy finalist. That award will be announced in late June. 
 
He quickly ended up as the team’s first unit power play quarterback, and led all rookie defensemen in points (46), while establishing several club rookie records, including goals by a Flyers defenseman (17).
 
Gostisbehere was voted the Barry Ashbee Trophy as the team’s best defenseman and the Gene Hart Memorial Award, given by the Flyers’ fan club to the players possessing the most “heart.”
 
Bellemare, 32, had 14 points this season as a valuable fourth line checking center and penalty killer. He also celebrated his 100th game as a Flyer. He figures to be a role player for Team Europe.
 
Ghost and Giroux both had off-season surgery on May 17. Their recovery is approximately 10-12 weeks. Both are expected at Flyers’ training camp in September.
 
Incidentally, the Flyers had just 167 man-games lost due to injury this past season. That’s the fewest number of injuries since 1998-99 when they had 120.
 
In all, the Flyers will send eight players – Bellemare, Giroux, Gostisbehere, center Sean Couturier (North America), defenseman Mark Streit (Team Europe), and three players from the Czech Republic – defenseman Radko Gudas, goalie Michal Neuvirth and forward Jakub Voracek.
 
Eight teams will compete in the tournament with every game being played at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
 
Philadelphia was one of the host cities for the inaugural World Cup of Hockey in 1996 when the Wells Fargo Center first opened as the CoreStates Center.

NHL Playoffs: Penguins back in Cup Final for first time since 2009

050416_schenn_pkg_webbestvideo3_1280x720_679686723674.jpg

NHL Playoffs: Penguins back in Cup Final for first time since 2009

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The hours before the biggest game of Bryan Rust's life were restless. The nap he tried to sneak in never materialized. The Pittsburgh Penguins forward's mind was simply too busy.

"I was just sitting up there looking at the ceiling," Rust said.

Yet even those daydreams didn't compare to the reality: the rookie forward who began training camp hoping just to make the team scored both of Pittsburgh's goals in a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday night.

Pittsburgh will host Western Conference champion San Jose in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

In a building littered with stars, it was the relentlessness of the 24-year-old Rust and the steadiness of 22-year-old goaltender Matt Murray who provided the difference as the Penguins reached the final for the first time since 2009.

"I'm in that mode where I'm getting the bounces and the breaks right now," Rust said.

Ones Rust and his teammates are earning. The Penguins rallied from a 3-2 deficit by controlling the final two games of the best-of-seven series, winning 5-2 in Tampa Bay in Game 6, then backing it up with what coach Mike Sullivan said "might have been the most complete 60-minute effort we had."

In disarray in December when Sullivan took over for Mike Johnston, the Penguins have sprinted through April and May and will head into June with a chance to win the franchise's fourth Cup, one that would serve as a bookend to its last triumph seven years when stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were still in their early 20s.

They're older now. Wiser. And undaunted by a series of postseason failures that made it seem the window of their primes were closing. Yet here they are after dispatching the New York Rangers in five games, the Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in six and the defending Eastern Conference champion Lightning in seven.

"They played better hockey than us the whole series," said Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman, who lost a Game 7 for the first time after starting his career 7-0 when pushed to the limit.

Jonathan Drouin scored his fifth goal of the playoffs for the Lightning and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 37 saves, but it wasn't enough to send Tampa Bay back to the Cup Final for a second straight year. Captain Steven Stamkos had two shots in 11:55 in his from a two-month layoff while dealing with blood clots, his best chance coming on a breakaway in the second period that deflected off Murray and trickled wide. One of Murray's teammates deftly guided the puck out of harm's way, emblematic of Tampa Bay's inability to keep the puck in Pittsburgh's end with any sort of consistency.

"I thought I beat him," Stamkos said. "It just went through him and out the other side. It was close, but we didn't generate enough offensively in order to win a game."

Mostly because the Penguins didn't let them. It's part of what Sullivan calls "playing the right way," a way abetted by the influx of speed brought in by general manager Jim Rutherford. That group includes Rust, who forced his way onto the roster thanks to feverish skating and a self-confidence that belies his nondescript 5-foot-11 frame.

That effort -- or "desperation level" as Crosby calls it -- provided the Penguins with the boost they needed to overcome a bit of unfortunate history and the return of Stamkos. Pittsburgh had dropped five straight Game 7s at home, including a 1-0 loss to Tampa Bay in 2011 in a series in which both Crosby and Evgeni Malkin missed due to injury.

That loss had become symbolic of the franchise's postseason shortcomings following that gritty run to the Cup in 2009 that culminated with a Game 7 win in Detroit that was supposed to be the launching pad of a dynasty.

Seven long years later, with an entirely new cast around mainstays Crosby, Malkin, Kris Letang, Chris Kunitz and Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins have returned to the league's biggest stage.

"We've always believed in one another," Crosby said. "Trying to get back, it's not easy."

Not by a long shot.

Vasilevskiy, a revelation while filling in for injured Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop, spent most of the night facing barrage after barrage as Pittsburgh controlled the puck and the pace of play for long stretches.

The Penguins finally broke through behind Rust, who managed all of five goals in 55 regular-season games, a total he's matched in just 17 games during the postseason. He gave the Penguins the lead 1:55 into the second when he raced down the slot, took a feed from Kunitz and beat Vasilevskiy over his glove.

Drouin's fourth goal of the series tied it at 9:36 of the second, a wicked wrist shot from the circle that zipped by Murray and seemed to blunt Pittsburgh's momentum.

Only it didn't.

All of 30 seconds later, the Penguins were back in front. Ben Lovejoy's slap shot from the point caromed off the end boards to the right of the net. Rust jabbed at it, squeezing it between Vasilevskiy's left arm and his body.

Their season on the brink, the Lightning recovered but Murray never wavered. His teammates in front of him kept Tampa Bay from getting in his way and when the final horn blared, Pittsburgh's metamorphosis was complete.

"The biggest challenge is ahead of us," Crosby said. "We have to finish it off the right way."

Notes
The Penguins went 0 for 5 on the power play. The Lightning were 0 for 1. ... The team that scores first is now 124-42 all-time in Game 7s, including 5-0 this year.

Flyers Stay or Go Part 5: R.J. Umberger to Ryan White

050416_schenn_pkg_webbestvideo3_1280x720_679686723674.jpg

Flyers Stay or Go Part 5: R.J. Umberger to Ryan White

In the final installment of our five-part offseason series examining the future of the Flyers, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster. We go alphabetically. Here are links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4. Today, we begin with R.J. Umberger.

R.J. Umberger
2015-16 stats: 39 GP, 2 G, 9 A; Contract: Signed through 2016-17, $4.6 mm cap hit

Dougherty: At the end-of-the-season media availability, Umberger said he expects to be bought out. And he will, unless general manager Ron Hextall can work some magic. He’s a goner.

Verdict: GO

Hall: Umberger expects to be bought out. It seems imminent at this point. Either way, the Flyers need to move on from Umberger.

Verdict: GO

Paone: To his credit, Umberger was a total pro as he went through his immense struggles this season. But to say the writing is on the wall for Umberger in Philadelphia is an understatement. It's like he sees a skywriter spelling it out in the clouds above him everywhere he goes. He even said himself that he expects the final year of his contract to be bought out sooner rather than later. His premonition will come true and the Flyers will take the $1.6 million cap hit that comes with it for next season.

Verdict: GO

Chris VandeVelde
2015-16 stats: 79 GP, 2 G, 12 A; Contract: Signed through 2016-17, $712,500 cap hit

Dougherty: VandeVelde is a Dave Hakstol disciple. He played for him at North Dakota and he played for him here. He was a cog on the fourth line, playing with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Ryan White all season long. But while VandeVelde kills penalties, he doesn’t do anything else. He has no offensive ability and, simply stated, is an AHL player playing in the NHL. The Flyers want to add scoring and to do that, someone has to go. And VandeVelde should be that guy.

Verdict: GO

Hall: Debating a fourth-liner’s status shouldn’t be one of the harder decisions, but it is in this case. That’s because Dave Hakstol adored his final unit of VandeVelde, Ryan White and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. However, the Flyers need better depth and VandeVelde is super cheap, so sending him to the AHL to clear a roster spot wouldn’t be a stomach-churning move. With a tiny cap hit, even an offseason trade is conceivable.

Verdict: GO

Paone: This is a tougher call than one would think for a role player of VandeVelde's ilk. On one hand, he, Ryan White and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare formed one of the most effective fourth lines in the entire league this season and an effective fourth line can be such a valuable weapon in today's NHL. There's chemistry there that you shouldn't want to mess with. On the other hand, VandeVelde is probably the most expendable and interchangeable of that trio. And with the Flyers needing as many roster spots as they can create, another younger and more effective player may be able to fit in there (Scott Laughton to start, possibly). That's why I lean toward saying VandeVelde won't be with the big club to start the season, despite his longstanding ties to Dave Hakstol. Roster spots are becoming more and more valuable in Philadelphia.

Verdict: GO

Jakub Voracek
2015-16 stats: 73 GP, 11 G, 44 A; Contract: Signed through 2023-24, $8.25 mm cap hit

Dougherty: This is a no-brainer. He signed an eight-year contract extension last summer, and that kicks in July 1. He had confidence issues this season and battled injury, but there’s nothing of concern there. He should be healthy and back to his productive self next season.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: Obviously, this isn’t really a question. What is, though, are Voracek’s health and rebound.

Verdict: STAY

Paone: It's no secret the Flyers' star winger struggled with both production and injury this season, a year removed from his spectacular 81-point campaign that earned him a massive eight-year, $66 million extension. That extension just so happens to kick in this year, by the way. You're crazy if you don't think a motivated Voracek will be back in orange and black next season.

Verdict: STAY

Jordan Weal
2015-16 stats: 14 GP, 0 G, 0 A; Contract: Restricted free agent

Dougherty: Weal was basically a throw-in in the Vinny Lecavalier trade. Los Angeles didn’t want him because there was no room for him on its NHL roster, but the Kings would have lost him for nothing had they placed him on waivers. He came to Philly and didn’t do anything to impress. He’s a restricted free agent. He’ll probably get qualified, but shouldn’t. Let him go.

Verdict: GO

Hall: Ron Hextall knows a lot about Weal. The 24-year-old was often the first player on the ice for extra work before practice. I think there was more than one reason why Weal was included in the trade that sent Vinny Lecavalier and Luke Schenn to the Kings. I say he’s back at a minimum rate but will head to the minors.

Verdict: GO

Paone: What exactly is Weal capable of at the NHL level? That's a really good question and one we don't have an answer to considering his lack of playing time with in both Los Angeles and Philadelphia this season. His injury after becoming a Flyer did him no favors, either. As I mentioned above when talking about VandeVelde, roster spots in Philadelphia are becoming more and more precious as the influx of talented prospects begins. Weal is really going to have to prove himself during camp to earn one of those spots. But, for right now, starting the season with the big club is a hazy picture for him.

Verdict: GO

Ryan White
2015-16 stats: 73 GP, 11 G, 5 A; Contract: Unrestricted free agent

Dougherty: White is everything the Flyers thought Zac Rinaldo would be. He brings energy, he’s physical and he can even score. He displayed the ability to play on the power play, which is a plus with a player in a fourth-line role. White should be back at least for another season.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: White epitomizes what you want. He cares more about the Flyers than money. He’s a terrific teammate willing to do anything. And he’s understanding more and more how to score ugly. A perfect fourth-liner for the Flyers who will be re-signed.

Verdict: STAY

Paone: You want to talk about an almost-perfect fit? That's what White has been with the Flyers over the last season and a half. In 107 games as a Flyer, White has recorded 17 goals and 11 assists for 28 points. In his first five seasons in the league with Montreal, the 28-year-old forward had just five goals and 12 assists for 17 points in 117 games. Even in a mostly fourth-line role, he's made an impact to the point he's earned Hakstol's trust enough to be the net-front presence on the Flyers' second power-play unit. He's a UFA who'll be due a bit of a raise, but White just meshes way too well to not bring back. He knows it, too, saying in his end-of-season media availability that money isn't necessarily the determining factor in negotiations with the Flyers. He'll be back in his familiar roles next season.

Verdict: STAY