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Northeast: A Leaf changing to a winning shade

by James Murphy / NHL.com

Antropov has been a consistent player for Toronto and alleviated some of the pressure from captain Mats Sundin and an injury-depleted team.
Following a pre-season game in Boston in September, Maple Leafs General Manager John Ferguson said a key factor in the success of his team this season would be the health and play of center Nik Antropov.

“He has been improving every season, and if he’s healthy, he will continue to be a huge part of this team and what we’re trying to do here,” Ferguson said of the 6-foot-6, 230-pound Antropov, who had played more than 60 games in a season only once in the last three seasons. “With his size and talent, I really think he can be one of our go-to guys and excel out there. He’s also a solid two-way player as he’s shown by being one of our plus-minus leaders the last few years”

Now 13 games into this season, Ferguson’s predictions have been spot-on. Following Monday's 7-1 loss to Washington, Antropov led the Leafs and the NHL with a plus- 11, and his 15 points were second on his team and tied for sixth overall. Antropov has been a consistent force for Toronto and alleviated some of the pressure from captain Mats Sundin and an injury-depleted team.

“Nik continues to produce on a consistent basis, and when he’s in the lineup he has really been one of, if not our best, two-way players the last few seasons,” Ferguson said. “He’s earned more opportunities and has responded well. He’s really been a key player for us with other guys like (Darcy) Tucker out with an injury or when some struggle. But even with those guys playing well or in the lineup, Nik helps our depth and forces other teams to spread their focus. They’re forced to change their defensive pairings and matcups.”

Antropov’s versatility is a key attribute, and Toronto is utilizing that in every facet of its game.

“Here’s a guy who can really establish a presence down low with his big frame and he has such a quick stick,” Ferguson said. “So his ability to position himself and that quick stick is a huge asset down low on the power play. But he can also use his size on the penalty kill as well in the corners and along the boards. So it’s a combination of production and physicality that really makes him useful in so many areas.”

Whether it be his injury problems or his size and potential talent, Antropov has sometimes found himself to be the brunt of the media’s and fans’ ire when the Leafs struggle, but Ferguson has been impressed with his ability to shrug it off and work hard to return when he has been sidelined by injuries.

“Nik’s focus has always been to establish himself as a go-to guy on this team and in the League,” Ferguson said. “I don’t think he has allowed external pressures to affect his approach to reaching that goal, or any of his goals. He is determined and it has shown both on and off the ice.”

According to Ferguson, Antropov also has evolved into a leader, which has been crucial with the recent influx of younger players.

“He’s still young himself at 27, but he has really matured into a quiet leader over the last few years and that has been key with the number of young players we have in our lineup,” Ferguson said. “It’s been great to watch him embrace this role of a go-to-guy and a leader over the past few weeks and to grow into a mature person on and off the ice.”

Who’s hot? -- The Thrashers were the first team in five games to beat the Canadiens Tuesday night with a 3-2 shootout win. Montreal has been getting it done with its power play, which after the loss to Atlanta was clicking at a 30.2-percent clip.

The Canadiens also have generated offense throughout the lineup, with forwards and defensemen chipping in. Forward Tomas Plekanec had six points during the last week of play and captain Saku Koivu collected five points. On the blue line, Andrei Markov scored twice and had two assists, while Mark Streit added three points with a goal and two assists.

Toronto forwards Mats Sundin (goal, four assists) and Jason Blake (five assists), had five points each, and defenseman Pavel Kubina had four points in three games.

Sabres forward Jason Pominville has five points in three games.

Shootout summary -- Montreal was the only team in the Northeast to play in a shootout this past week, beating Pittsburgh, 3-2, in an eight-round marathon Saturday, and losing 3-2 to the Thrashers Tuesday. Andrei Markov won the shootout in Pittsburgh and Carey Price came up huge with three saves. Saku Koivu had the lone goal for the Canadiens in the loss to Atlanta.

Black and Blue

Bergeron

Boston -- Forward Patrice Bergeron will be out at least a month after suffering a Grade III concussion, broken nose and strained neck against Philadelphia Saturday. The Bruins also took a hit between the pipes when goaltender Manny Fernandez suffered a “slight” knee strain during practice and is day-to-day. Jordan Sigalet was recalled from Providence to replace Fernandez.

Buffalo -- The Sabres remain without defenseman Teppo Numminen, who is on injured reserve recovering from heart surgery. Fellow defenseman Dmitri Kalinin (knee) and Jaroslav Spacek (shoulder) are day-to-day.

Bouillon

Montreal -- Canadiens defenseman Francis Bouillon is day-to-day after suffering a shoulder injury in the loss to Atlanta Tuesday. Forward Garth Murray remains out with a broken right ankle.

Ottawa -- Senators forward Dean McAmmond remains on the injured reserve with a concussion.

Toronto -- Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo (knee), forward Kyle Wellwood (sports hernia), and forward Darcy Tucker (knee) remain on the I.R., while defenseman Bryan McCabe is day-to-day with a groin injury.

The Week Ahead -- No games in the Northeast Wednesday, but Thursday will be busy, with the Thrashers in Ottawa, the Flyers at Montreal and the Sabres and Bruins hooking in for a divisional battle.

On Friday, the Maple Leafs will face the Devils at the brand new Prudential Center, and the Sabres host the Panthers.

The Bruins are in Ottawa Saturday for the front-end of a home-and-home and Montreal hosts Toronto in an Original Six match.

Sunday, the Senators and Bruins complete the home-and-home at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston.

Another Northeast game takes place Monday, when the Sabres play the Canadiens at the Bell Centre.

Ottawa and Toronto renew the battle of Ontario at Scotiabank Place on Tuesday.

 

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