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Alexei Zhitnik: Stick a Fork in Him?

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A few years ago the New Jersey Devils signed Richard Matvichuk (age 32) Vladimir Malakhov (age 37) and Alexander Mogilny (36). All three of these players proved ineffective in the speedier NHL and the Devils had to make some tough choices. One of the players "retired" and another was sent to the minors.

The Thrashers organization now needs to make that call on Alexei Zhitnik (age 36). He is simply no longer an effective player in the NHL. Earlier in the season Don Waddell described him as being "out of shape" but we are now in late January and he has been playing for nearly four months. Zhitnik needs to either retire or be sent to the minors. He is hurting the Thrashers every single night he dresses and there are few reasons to think he is going to suddenly improve. If he is still "out of shape" then let him get his form back in the AHL playing 20 minutes a night and riding the bus.

The truth is that Zhitnik is either no longer mobile enough to keep up with NHL forwards or he lacks the mental ability to adjust to the fact that he has lost a step (unlike say Ken Klee who is not fast but reasonable effective). Last night in New York Zhitnik prematurely dropped to one knee to block a potential pass only to watch Dubinsky skate around him and score an easy goal on an abandoned Kari Lehtonen. Later in the game during four on four action Tobias Enstrom pinched carried the puck deep in the Rangers zone. Zhitnik failed to act as the safety valve and allowed himself to be trapped up ice for an easy break away goal by the Rangers.

Zhitnik's blown coverage versus the Rangers is nothing new. Time after time I have replayed goals against the Thrashers on my DVR at home in which Zhitnik cruises into the TV picture after the damage has been done. I can't believe that I'm the only person that is getting sick of seeing this on my TV screen each game.

Don Waddell is patient man, patient to a fault sometimes. If he sticks with Zhitnik the rest of the season it might very well cost the Thrashers a playoff berth (just as his choice not to trade for a goaltender in the 2005-06 season ultimately cost the team the playoffs that year). The Thrashers have 31 games remaining and they simply must get the maximum out of every position in the lineup.

As a 15 year veteran Alexi Zhitnik earned the right to be given a chance to turn around his season. Zhitnik has been given that and more and now. Now it is time for the Thrashers to act in the best interests of the team and either bench him or send him down to the AHL and play Popovic in his place.