Suglobov must step up

LANCE HORNBY, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 8:03 AM ET

CHICAGO -- If Alex Trebek creates a category titled 'unproductive Maple Leafs wingers', Alex Suglobov is going to be an easy $100.

The jeopardy we're talking about here is Suglobov's place in the Toronto lineup, which could either be extended in the next three weeks with Alexei Ponikarovsky out with a separated left shoulder, or see Suglobov shipped back to the Marlies.

Billed as a scoring winger when general manager John Ferguson brought him in late last year in a trade with New Jersey for defenceman Ken Klee, Suglobov went into last night's game with no goals in 11 career games as a Leaf and a minus-4 this season.

"This could be another chance for me," Suglobov said yesterday. "It didn't work out at all very well for me (a back injury suffered in the Leafs skills competition on Dec. 3 contributing to his troubles). We have a lot of guys here and as soon as I didn't pick up my game, someone else stepped up and I didn't get a chance to play."

That has changed for at least the next three games, with news of the seriousness of Ponikarovsky's injury. He fell on teammate Bryan McCabe's stick in practice at Lakeshore Lions Arena on Thursday.

Also out for last night's game against the Chicago Blackhawks was centre Kyle Wellwood with a hip flexor/groin that could also keep him from playing this evening at home versus Washington.

The Leafs almost seem to relish playing through injuries, including a seven-game hiatus of captain Mats Sundin. The team's seven-game losing streak came with a near-healthy roster and now they're short-staffed again, losing both of Sundin's first-line wingers.

"We are counting on the same type of response from our team," Ferguson said. "(Ponikarovsky's) is not the type of injury you plan on ... you hate to see guys get hurt in practice. But that's where we're at.

"We will look to some players who felt they could use some more ice time to prove they can do something with it. (Suglobov) is one for sure."

Coach Paul Maurice says he's hopeful Ponikarovsky can play three weeks to the day he was hurt, but even that would translate to a 10-game absence.

Suglobov will be brought along slowly, Maurice said before the game. So, too, will winger Ben Ondrus, also summoned from the Marlies.

"I'll probably not play them as a line, just move them individually around," Maurice said. "Maybe put Ben up and drop Mats down a couple of shifts (with Suglobov and Wade Belak) just to even the bench out if we have to."


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