The 21-year-old Ukrainian proved pre-season workouts are overrated by scoring two goals and leading the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 5-1 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday night.
Zherdev missed all of pre-season camp and the club's first two games, arriving in Columbus on Sunday from Russia after ironing out visa problems.
He scored on the power play just 1:01 in and added another when he jammed in Rick Nash's shot midway through the second period to make it 3-1.
"From June 22, I have been in preparation for this season," Zherdev said through an interpreter. "My team (in the Russian Super League) had already played 20 games. I'm in great condition right now."
Nash and Duvie Westcott each added a goal and two assists, Anson Carter scored his first with Columbus, and David Vyborny had three assists for the Blue Jackets, who had three power-play goals for the second game in a row.
Nash, Westcott and Vyborny have points in all three Columbus games.
Ed Jovanovski scored for the Coyotes, who have lost two in a row after a 6-3 win over the New York Islanders in the season opener. Phoenix was 0-for-9 on the power play.
"It was just a mismatch tonight. They embarrassed us," Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky said. "Half the game we played pretty well, and it was a game up to that point. Then they took right over. They kept skating, they played smart. We tried to get through everybody and got stripped of the puck countless times."
Zherdev was involved in a protracted and contentious contract dispute with Columbus general manager Doug MacLean throughout the summer. He finally signed a US$7.5 million, three-year deal on Sept. 28.
His teammates didn't think he'd be out of shape.
"He was playing in the Russian Super League, so it's not like he was sitting around eating Twinkies and bon-bons all the time," Carter said with a grin.
Zherdev added a lot of speed to the Columbus attack.
"First of all, I'm happy the team won," Zherdev said. "It was nice to score two goals, but it is more important that the team won."
With the score tied 1-1 midway through the second period, the Blue Jackets pulled away. Nash was camped in front of the net during a power play and chipped Vyborny's pass from the right wing into the high left corner of the net for his third goal.
In the midst of six consecutive power plays - Columbus was 3-of-12 with a man advantage - the Blue Jackets made it 3-1 when Nash carried the puck along the left boards, shed defender Derek Morris and muscled his way to the net. He got off a shot at the near post, with Zherdev trailing to jam the puck in.
Nash said it was fun to again be on the ice with Zherdev.
"He's probably in better shape than we are," Nash said. "He's one of the most talented and skilled players in the NHL."
Carter, a free agent signed as insurance in case Zherdev didn't ink a contract, scored 1:27 into the third period. He took a pass, steadied the puck with his skate, and backhanded it toward the net, where the shot caromed off Jovanovski's left skate and past Phoenix goaltender Michael Morrison.
Just 61 seconds in, Nash swooped in on Morrison, who blocked the shot. But Zherdev cleaned up for a goal on his first shot of the season.
Jovanovski, signed in the off-season away from Vancouver, tied it midway through the first period. Shane Doan slid a cross-ice pass that Jovanovski netted from the right hash-mark.
Notes: Columbus C Dan Fritsche injured a shoulder in the first period and didn't return. ... Phoenix D Keith Ballard hurt his hand in the opening period. Gretzky said he would be sidelined "for a while." ... The Blue Jackets have only won two October games in a row twice before in their five-year history. ... Morrison, Curtis Joseph's backup, got the start for Phoenix after telling Gretzky he had friends and family in Ohio.