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|15 января 2009
Leafs' Antropov Adjusting To New Role // National Post
TORONTO - The head coach regularly says the Toronto Maple Leafs lack talent. The general manager is rumoured to be trying to trade half the roster. And after losing four straight games -- with just two wins in the last 10 games --heads are hanging low.
A year ago, the players in the dressing room would turn to Mats Sundin for leadership and guidance. But now that the former captain is playing with the Vancouver Canucks, a new steadying voice is slowly emerging from the crowd.
It has a Kazakhstan accent now.
"I speak English pretty good," Nik Antropov said. " A few words on the bench or in the dressing room is all it takes."
Antropov may have a heavy accent. And he is not yet comfortable with giving motivational speeches. But the 28-year-old, now in his ninth season in Toronto, is talking his team through a difficult time.
"When you're in a slump like right now, everybody's chipping in with a word or two in the dressing room or on the bench."
It would make sense that Antropov is vocal. After all, he and Alexei Ponikarovsky have been the unofficial translators for the Russian-speaking Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin throughout this season.
Yesterday, Antropov was speaking for the rest of his teammates when he said, "We need to give a little more effort."
The Leafs are mired in one of their worst slumps of the season. The offence has scored just 17 goals in the last 10 games. And the defence has allowed 40 goals in that span.
But what seems to be most troubling is that neither the players nor coaches seem to be all that surprised or upset that the 11th-place team is slipping further and further out of post-season contention.
"I can't say it's not a good season," said Antropov, who has a team-leading 33 points. "It's been a good season."
Certainly, Antropov has to be happy that he is on pace for a career-best 60 points. And the oft-injured winger, who has remained healthy for all 43 games, is obviously pleased that he has managed to produce without the aid of Sundin.
But like the Leafs, who exceeded expectations at the start of the season, he has also recently cooled off.
"I've been in those slumps last year," said Antropov, who has gone 11 games without scoring. "Me, personally, I'm pushing myself and getting down on myself, which is not the right thing to do.
It seems that the rest of the team is trying to follow his advice.
Ponikarovsky said that it is important for the players not to be distracted on the things that are out of their control.
If what he said sounded familiar, it was because Sundin had preached the same thing numerous times last season.
"We said at the beginning of the year, we knew Mats was not coming back," Antropov said. "So me, Poni and a couple of other guys became the veterans."
"Basically, we are leaders right now," Ponikarovsky said.
Since Sundin's departure, the Leafs have not named a new captain. Instead, Antropov, Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina, Jamal Mayers and Dominic Moore have taken turns acting as alternate captains.