Time for Antropov to do something

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:50 PM ET

 Nik Antropov considers his last goal the way some men recall a long-lost girlfriend.

 "I remember it," he said. "Atlanta."

 That's right, March 29 against the Atlanta Thrashers. A rounded-off month without a goal will have passed when Antropov steps on to the ice for Game 3 against the Philadelphia Flyers tomorrow night.

 Might as well be 1,000 years.

 Antropov is lost.

 He knows it. Maybe that's the worst part.

 It's one thing to be ineffective and oblivious. The world is full of incompetents operating completely and blissfully ignorant of their shortcomings. Lucky souls.

 But when you know you're struggling, the dynamic gets worse.

 "I don't think I've played good in the playoffs," Antropov said, and you'll need to travel a ways to find someone who will disagree.

 Despite 16 minutes of ice time a night with the Maple Leafs, Antropov has no goals and only 13 shots over nine playoff games. That he is a plus-1 is strictly a reflection of the five goals potted by linemate Joe Nieuwendyk. Antropov is thinking about where he should go, about making sure he doesn't overcommit to offence. He is reacting instead of acting and his skating looks lethargic.

 "You have to make the decision at the moment," he said. "You think about it two or three times ..."

 This could have been Antropov's big moment, a repudiation of a tepid 13-goal season that put the 24-year-old right in the middle of trade talk.

 Hockey people covet Antropov. They look at his size -- he is 6-foot-6 --and his solid hand skills. Knee injuries have left him a barely serviceable skater, but the prospect of finding him 18-20 minutes a night to chew on smaller centres entices talent evaluators.

 Antropov's greatest skill is his hockey sense. He is, for all his reach and size, an intuitive, smart player who gets a piece of the puck remarkably often in all three zones.

 Combine that with a willingness to initiate contact, and you have a player who can shift a game or even a series without scoring, a player who seems perfectly built to counter the physical Flyers.

 "His play should be centred around being strong on the puck, finishing his checks, complementing his linemates," Leafs coach Pat Quinn said yesterday. "He did that pretty well when he was playing with Joe."

 There probably will be no Joe for a while. Nieuwendyk, who marshalled Alexei Ponikarovsky and Antropov around so ably, has been lost to a recurring back problem.

 With Nieuwendyk out, Antropov was moved back to the middle with Tom Fitzgerald and Ponikarovsky for Game 2. The line did not allow a goal against but exerted little pressure on the Flyers.

 Antropov isn't the scorer anyone will want him to be and Quinn, who sees a potentially dependable two-way player, is wary of Antropov sacrificing offence for defence. There are plenty of others, the goalless Alexander Mogilny, Gary Roberts to name another, Darcy Tucker to name a third, depended on for offence more than Antropov.

 "If he starts to think he's going to become a great scorer, it's probably bad thinking," Quinn said. "He needs to do what he does well."

 He hasn't. That's why this guy needs a goal the way the Scarecrow needed a brain.

 There is little that afflicts Antropov, or the Leafs, that a goal or two wouldn't fix.

 It'll happen too. The question is before the lockout or after?