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|29 января 2009
Antropov fears possible trade; Scoring Drought; 'It obviously is doing something to my game,' Leaf says // National Post
As he staggers through one of the longest scoring droughts of his career in the National Hockey League, Nik Antropov made a vital confession here yesterday: The thought of being traded by the Toronto Maple Leafs is weighing on him like an anvil.
"It's not easy -- I'm sure that's in the back of my mind, all the [trade] stuff, and it's affecting me," Antropov said after an hour-long practice at the Pepsi Center, where the Leafs and Colorado Avalanche clash tonight. "It obviously is doing something to my game, even though I realize I have no control over it. Whatever Brian [Burke] decides, I'll have to live with, and I've just got to find a way to somehow play through it."
Of course, Antropov is hardly alone in that challenge. At least half-a-dozen Toronto veterans -- names such as Tomas Kaberle, Alexei Ponikarovski, Pavel Kubina and Ian White -- are playing with similar uncertainty heading towards the March 4 NHL trade deadline.
Perhaps as a result, the Leafs have been in a free-fall since before Christmas with an abysmal 3-10-2 record in their last 15 games, and it is no secret that Burke is looking to make significant changes between now and next season. Antropov appears to have been affected the most.
After scoring 13 goals in the first 32 games -- and appearing as if he would easily surpass his career-high 26 from last season -- the native of Kazakhstan went stone-cold. He has not scored in 16 games dating to Dec. 20 in Pittsburgh, and he seems unsure of himself around the opposition net.
While it affects the Leafs on the ice, it has likely taken a sizeable chunk out of Antropov's trade value, too.
In the first period of Tuesday night's 6-1 debacle in St. Paul, Minn., Antropov was twice sent in alone on Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom with nifty feeds from linemate Matt Stajan. On both occasions, the big winger looked as if he'd never before handled a hockey puck.
"Yeah, tell me about it," Antropov said, rolling his eyes. "On the first one, I didn't know what I was doing. It was awful -- like I had no clue. On the second chance, there was a whole empty corner at the top of the net, and I couldn't even lift the puck. It was definitely kind of awkward, but I guess I have to believe it's getting closer for me."
When asked if he is questioning his ability on the ice, Antropov replied, "Oh yeah, it's all about confidence and mine is low right now. If you don't have confidence, you play but the puck is not going in."
When the Leafs were surpassing expectation early in the season, Antropov and rookie Mikhail Grabovski were leading the way. Grabovski went on a tear from Nov. 2-13, scoring seven goals in six games. But he only has five goals in the ensuing 28 matches and none in the last 11. His last tally was not exactly front-page news as it came in the Dallas Stars' 8-2 demolition of the Leafs on Dec. 23.
"Those are the ups and downs, and the inconsistencies you get from young people," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said about Grabovski. "He's a sensitive person, and he seems to grind himself up if he has a bad game, which leads to an even worse game the next time out.
"Mikhail just has to press the reset button and relax a little bit."
Defenceman Jeff Finger has done more relaxing that he anticipated in the past three weeks, missing seven games with a torn triceps muscle. But, he will return tonight against the team that let him escape to unrestricted free agency last summer.
"Facing the Avalanche is obviously going to be special -- particularly here in Denver," Finger said. "That's the only organization I played with prior to joining the Leafs, and I have a soft spot for the people with Colorado because they gave me my start in the NHL."
On the opposite side, the Leafs will be opposing former teammates Darcy Tucker and Andrew Raycroft for the first time. Raycroft will start in goal for Colorado.
"It hurt a bit to leave Toronto but I couldn't have found a better place to come to," said Tucker, who was bought out by the Leafs in June. "Everyone has their opinion, and I can't control what people say about me. I scored 18 goals last year and I didn't think that was too bad.
"But, when you don't make the playoffs, changes obviously happen."