There’s been much speculation as to the source of the New York Rangers offensive woes, with one school of thought suggesting that head coach Tom Renney’s emphasis on team defense has left his charges playing scared, afraid to make mistakes or take chances offensively. Not so, according to right wing Nikolai Zherdev, who spoke with Alexander Ryabov of Sport Express following the Rangers 6-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the end of January. In the interview, Zherdev discusses his desire to play for the Russian national team, his adjustment to New York, and the state of the Rangers. And he credits the extra freedom afforded him by the Rangers coaching staff for his career-best scoring pace, while citing Renney’s “understanding” when he does make a mistake.
Of course, some might say the understanding Renney displays towards his big-ticket players and his reluctance to bench them is his crucial flaw. Not that it’s a problem where Zherdev’s concerned, as the winger once again found himself glued to the bench during the second period of Sunday’s sorry display against Philadelphia — punishment for “lack of effort and preparation” according to the coach. Of course, at least a dozen of his teammates could have been criticized for a similar lack of effort, but none of them were asked to take a seat…
Nikolai Zherdev: “I don’t want to be a reserve choice for the national team”
After the game with Pittsburgh, the top scorer on the Rangers gave Sport-Express an interview.
Zherdev is easy to recognize. At the morning skate he stands out on the Rangers roster for his cheerful disposition and at the same time a kind of special confidence as he executes his signature dekes. At the end of practice Nikolai is easy to contact, communicating freely and easily with the press.
– You’re having an excellent season — in Russia they look at you as a potential candidate for the national team. Are you prepared to come for the World Championship?
- Of course, in fact I want to play for the national team very much! It’s simply that they haven’t called me. What else can I say?
- What did you think about [head coach Vyacheslav] Bykov’s words last year: “By his tone of voice we understood that Kolya would not help us.”
- How is it possible to understand that from my voice? Over the course of last season no one communicated with me at all!
- In the present year has the coaching staff of the team come to you?
- No. And, I admit, I wouldn’t want to feel like a player to whom they offered [the opportunity] to jump on the steps of a departing train; to be left as a reserve choice in case someone can’t come. I want to be a full-fledged player on the team, who is summoned along with all the others.
– Would you go to the Olympics in Vancouver with pleasure?
- Without question! To play in such a tournament is the dream of any hockey player. And earlier I’ve gone to the national team if I was called. I have always played for the junior and youth teams with pleasure.
- You’re having your best season in the NHL, you’re the team leader in goals scored and assists. How can you explain such progress?
- First of all, after Columbus I found myself on a different team, [a team] which has its own system of play. They trust me noticeably more here, they let me do everything I am able [to do]. The coaches constantly focus on that.
- That’s the approach Brazilian football [soccer] experts employ, in which they don’t retrain players, but try to fully uncover the talent that’s available.
- Perfectly true. Our head coach Tom Renney treats even my mistakes with understanding.
- Do you feel comfortable in New York?
- Yes, I like the city, and I changed my life slightly, you could say. There’s a different atmosphere in the team here. If you consider the distracting factors of New York, you see, there isn’t so much time here that there’s often somewhere to go. Except perhaps that there is more choice of restaurants where you can enjoy a meal. In all other respects its the same as in Moscow.
– Do you not regret that you did not get to the All-Star game?
- It could be that in a year I’ll be invited there. Right now I’m thinking about other things. As you know we still have half a season to play out. The main thing is to get into the playoffs. As for next year, we’ll see, especially since for now I still do not have a contract for next season.
- The Rangers started the season very strongly, but then cooled off. What happened?
- Nothing terrible happened. The main thing is that we started well, in a shot time we collected many points. If there was a small slump, it is already behind us. Similar things happen with all teams. So everything goes normally.
- There exists an opinion that the highly paid stars of the Rangers – Gomez, Drury, Redden, Naslund – do not live up to their salaries, and that goaltender Lundqvist isn’t as solid as he was a year ago.
- I don’t agree. Look at the result of the most recent games: they score and pass. Yes, I have a few more points than them, but that doesn’t mean that the others aren’t working. Lundqvist got to the All-Star game.
- So you think that everything with the team is normal?
- There’s nothing terrible, we’re amongst the leaders. There’s no panic. Our spirits are high.
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