ATLANTA -- Peter Laviolette is the Flyers’ master button pusher.
He knows when to push his players, when the take his foot off the pedal and when to sit a player down in order to try and squeeze the most possible production out of his lineup.
Laviolette has carefully walked that line with forward Nik Zherdev this season.
Every time Laviolette has yanked Zherdev from the lineup, in favor of either Dan Carcillo or Jody Shelley or Andreas Nodl, Zherdev has responded in his first games back.
-Zherdev was a healthy scratch Oct. 29 and 30:
He came back to post 3 goals in his next 5 games back in the lineup.
-After a lull of just two goals in 10 games, Zherdev was a healthy scratch again on Dec. 1:
He came back with 4 goals and 1 assist in his next 3 games.
-With another four games without a goal, Zherdev missed two games with a groin injury and then was a healthy scratch on Jan. 8 and 11:
Last night, in his first game back, Zherdev may have played his best game of the season. He scored a game-tying goal for the Flyers late in the second period on a breakaway, which allowed Jeff Carter to give the Flyers with 35.7 seconds to go in the period. Zherdev also assisted on Sean O’Donnell’s first goal of the season.
That lead, of course, didn’t hold up in the Flyers’ eventual 7-5 loss at TD Garden against the Bruins. Giving up 5 goals in a period will do that to you.
Still, consider this fact: if you like baseball sabermetrics, which calculate stats based on nine-innings played, you’d like to know that Zherdev scores more goals per 60 minutes on-ice than any other player in the NHL.
Zherdev upped his total to 14 goals last night, which puts him on pace for a career-high 27 goals. When you consider his lack of ice time on special teams and at even strength, his numbers are even more impressive.
We’ve said this before: Zherdev doesn’t always give you his best effort in the defensive zone, and he has the tendency to take shifts off from time to time. But that’s nothing new. The Flyers knew that before they acquired him.
When Zherdev is motivated, there are few players in the NHL with his skill. With his deft hands and slick moves, he is fun and exciting to watch.
But each time after it appears that Zherdev has etched his name in Laviolette’s lineup card in stone, his production sloughs off. That’s human nature.
His talents are obvious. Zherdev can transcend the Flyers’ third line. Now it is up to him to harness his mental approach - because not only will Laviolette tire of trying to have to jumpstart a player every 6 games, but each additional time Zherdev's buttons are pushed, its effect will lose its power.
BOB IN NET? Peter Laviolette made no announcement after the game, but it’s probably safe to assume that rookie netminder Sergei Bobrovsky will get the call in goal tonight against the Thrashers.
The Flyers have not yet faced upstart Atlanta this season, who has a 3 point edge on 8th place with a 22-16-7 record.
WALKER BACK: Flyers defenseman Matt Walker was re-introduced to the lineup last night in a fast-paced game against the Bruins for the first time since last April. Walker missed the first 42 games of the season with back-to-back hip surgeries. He skated 13:29 and was a minus-1.
Walker left the arena before the media had a chance to ask him about his season debut, but a lot will be determined this morning with how his body reacts. Oskars Bartulis was a healthy scratch last night.
The Flyers will likely only need either Walker or Bartulis for the next two games, as Chris Pronger met the team in Atlanta this morning for their pre-game skate. Pronger has missed the last 10 games after a Dec. 17 foot surgery. His projected return date is Tuesday night against the Capitals. The Flyers will also play at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night against the Rangers before then.
BUSH LEAGUE: We don’t often get into league matters on the blog surrounding other teams, but I think it’s incredulous that the league - according to multiple published reports - is going to fine the Toronto Maple Leafs for coach Ron Wilson’s actions on Tuesday night in San Jose.
Wilson “put money on the board,” which is commonplace for an NHL player or coach to do against one of their former teams. Wilson spent parts of 5 seasons with the Sharks before being fired and heading to Toronto.
Not only that, but Wilson was gunning for his 600th career win in that game.
For those who aren’t familiar, putting “money on the board” is a hockey tradition where someone will write an amount on the locker room board - usually by a player/coach playing against a former team or with a big milestone upcoming - which usually will go to the player that scores the game-winning goal.
The money is then usually turned over to the team’s staff, who uses it to pay for things like team lunches at the practice rink and tips for equipment and locker room attendants.
Rest assured, it takes place in almost every NHL locker room before almost every game.
The problem on Tuesday night was that Wilson was caught on camera on Rogers SportsNet for handing the money to one of his players after the game.
The NHL, through sources in those reports, said it is against the rules to provide monetary incentives for players to win. Really? Aren’t the paid millions of dollars to win? What’s another couple hundred bucks?
The fine amount has not been determined. But let’s remind ourselves that this is the National Hockey League, not the No Fun League.
STAT OF THE DAY: Atlanta defensemen Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom, who were both named to the All-Star team this week, have a combined 78 points this season, which is just 8 points less than the Flyers’ combined total from all 8 defensemen.
For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers
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