It was weird on Sunday when Ville Leino was benched in the third period. Sure, he didn't play great in the early part of the game, but with Danny Briere out of the lineup and Blair Betts gone midway through the game with an injury, you wouldn't expect Peter Laviolette to shorten his bench.
As a result, we thought it was an injury. It wasn't. Ville was just benched.
And hey, I'm fine with that, because quite frankly, he deserved it.
We've been talking all year about how Nikolay Zherdev is missing something. A lot of us seem to think it's defense or something, but really, he's not a bad defensive player. At the very least, he's on par with Danny Briere and Leino in that department.
In my opinion, and this is only an opinion, Zherdev's been lacking a commitment to the Flyers style of hockey all season. He would carry the puck too long, not commit to the cycle game, fail to pass the damn puck. (I mean, damn, the guy has 16 goals and 5 assists. What's that tell you?)
We all know he has a ton of skill. He can create space and do extremely creative things with the puck, but the problems arise when he tries to get too creative with the puck.
If I had to guess, this is why Zherdev's been a healthy scratch more often than not this season, and it's one of the main reasons Ville Leino was a healthy scratch after coming over from Detroit last season. Trying to do too much with the puck. Not being simple in the offensive game. That's how Laviolette's teams win hockey games. Aggressive, simple forechecking.
If you don't commit, you sit. Plain and simple.
Over the last month, as the Flyers have failed to win a single home game -- seriously, March 8 vs. Edmonton was the last one -- this has been a major issue. No simplicity in the offensive game. It really is as simple as that, in my eyes. Improve in the transition/breakout game (ahem, Chris Pronger) and simplify things from the offensive blue line in and the Flyers will win hockey games.
As the team has gotten away from that philosophy, Leino has been one of the biggest offenders. I don't have video of it because I still can't watch Sunday's game on NHL GameCenter, but if you've watched a game in the last month, you've no doubt seen it. He's had Zherdev Syndrome. It's earned him a benching.
Meanwhile, Zherdev looks as though he's on the same page as the team now. The shift that led to James van Riemsdyk's first period goal on Sunday was a prime example of that.
Zherdev tries to create some offense and certainly uses his skill, but he does it without going over board. The puck gets deep and he's able to make a fancy move to get it in front, ultimately leading to a scoring chance. That's the kind of stuff we need to see from Zherdev, and when Ville Leino is connecting with his linemates, that's the kind of stuff he brings to the table.
Hopefully his benching, which "pissed him off" on Sunday, will help him get back to that. We'll find out tonight in Ottawa.