Conflict of personalities
Zherdev watch

DEC.4 -- There has to be something to justify Nikolai Zherdev's clashes with his coaches this season. His explosive temper and reluctance to change his game in coach's favor could be just that.

It didn't take long for potential 2003 NHL draft's top pick to get into (Russia U-20 head coach) Rafail Ishmatov's doghouse. It seemed that Ishmatov disliked the kid right away, but unable to overlook his immense talent former SKA coach had no other choice than to include Zherdev onto the U-20 roster.

Zherdev was called to star for Russia in two Four Nations tourneys this fall, but was underutilized in mostly of six games he played. That should explain his modest stats (6-2-3-5).

Zherdev's moody and revolting temper reminds the one of young Alex Mogilny. Nikolai is a competitive kid, he has his own view on the game and usually doesn't hesitate to fingerpoint when things don't go his way.

Zherdev has been accused of being a selfish puckhog and not a team player rather wrongly. He's trying hard to get into team concept and showed flashes of successive improvement in that regard,  but struggles with consistency at this issue.

These days it's Viktor Tikhonov who's after the young gem. After the Nov.30 contest against Lada (2-2) Tikhonov, who has a long history of clashing with supremely talented players, labeled Zherdev responsible for his team's tough luck - blaming him for taking late penalty that resolved in Togliatti's equalizer.

It wasn't the first time 72-year old coach bashed his 18-year old star this season. Earlier in the year Tikhonov senior often criticized Nikolai publicly for variety of reasons, main of which Zherdev's reluctance to listen to coaching staff's pleas.

Last night in Chelyabinsk Zherdev was scratched. It's not like Zherdev's play is without flaws, but there's sure other ways to make this talented kid understand what's required of him on the ice. If Tikhonov wants to get his message through, he has to cut down kid's ice-time. Especially considering the fact that since the beginning of the season Zherdev aside from playing a lot has been relied upon heavily in majority of clutch situations. Tikhonov expects Nikolai to go out and win games for his club and that's a bit too much pressure for an 18-year old kid. Zherdev, despite all his current flaws that to some extent are largely due to lack of maturity, is team's top scorer and most consistent forward.

Notes: If there's one CSKA player that truly deserved to be scratched last night, it had to be Alex Drozdetsky. Since scoring seven goals in season's opening month, Drozdetsky can't hit the back of the net for 18 straight games. In majority of those contests Alex has been barely noticeable.

-- Max Dostoevsky