Big Defenceman Zadorov Continues to Impress for Flames
Nikita Zadorov had five hits and eight blocks on Wednesday night. His Calgary Flames lost 2-1 in a shootout but it was a solid effort.
Countryman Nikita Zadorov didn’t like Evgeni Malkin’s celebration after scoring the shootout winner against his Calgary Flames.
Other than that, the big Russian defenceman had a lot of fun in the 2-1 shootout loss.
It was the kind of night you might expect from the 6-foot-6, 250 pounder from Moscow.
Five hits. Eight blocks.
The restraint not to go after Malkin when the 36-year-old ended the contest with a perfectly place goal on Flames backup Dan Vladar.
“I just didn’t like he threw the stick in the stands. That’s the one thing I didn’t like,” said Zadorov, who was a big helper in Vladar’s big night.
Vladar stopped 38 of 39 pucks that got through to him. Zadorov made sure that total didn’t hit the mid-40s.
“It helps to have big feet,” Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter joked about some of the blocks by Zadorov and Chris Tanev on the Penguins powerplay.
Zadorov upstaged his bench boss with the humour.
“I was just a big guy in the right lane and the puck hits me. It’s not like I’m throwing myself out there,” Zadorov said. “We know they’re a shooting powerplay, we need to eat some pucks out there to keep it out of the net. Tanny has been doing that for years on that. I’m learning from him, too”
Learning is the key word there.
Zadorov has come miles with his big feet since joining the Flames in a trade last summer.
He and Erik Gudbranson were a dynamic duo as the bottom pairing. Zadorov wasn’t always the most reliable. At times he’d throw a pizza up the middle of the ice, lose his man around the net, or lose his cool and take a bad penalty. But he still managed a career year and a giant leap forward.
This year, he’s been praised by Sutter as the team’s best defenceman over nearly a quarter of a season already.
He’s making smarter plays on the back end without sacrificing his keen sense of offensive opportunity. His four goals this season is tops among all Calgary Flames defencemen, and his six points ranks third.
Zadorov also leads all Flames with a plus-10 rating.
“He has been our best player in the physical part of the game and the execution part of the game,” Sutter said before Monday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers.
“Knowing what the score is, knowing who is on the ice, things like that you talk to him about, using his stick properly, being a better penalty-killer, still maintaining a physical presence without taking penalties.”
The growth has been monumental. At 27, the hulking rearguard is playing at or near 20 minutes a night and now finds himself partnered with exciting offseason addition MacKenzie Weegar — and crushing competition together.
He’s having fun. Wednesday night was no exception.
“It’s playoff hockey,” Zadorov said after the Pens game. “I feel like today the crowd was going, it was a great atmosphere to play hockey. It was enjoyable for me, definitely. It’s fun.”
Except for the Malkin celebration, of course.