Eat it, Montreal.
I was really concerned at the Trade Deadline about losing Dominic Moore because I thought it might negatively effect Jason Blake's production. As for trading Antropov, it wasn't concern, I simply accepted that Ponikarovsky's numbers would go down and that he would struggle on his own. Whenever the two were separated, I always assumed it was because Poni wasn't playing well and saw it as a demotion from the top line. What I never imagined happening after the Antropov trade, was Ponikarovsky suddenly emerging from the shadows as the team's best forward.
Since March the 4th, Poni is on a tear. In the last 9 games he has 4 goals, 10 assists for 14 points, has had 3 multiple point games, and has only been held without a point twice. Oddly, both those games were against Tampa Bay. In last night's game against Montreal he was absolutely outstanding. Playing on a line with Grabovski and Kulemin, Poni dominated the game with 2 goals and 2 assists, earning the first star.
To put in perspective what Poni has done since the loss of Antropov and Moore, we'll compare his stats with those of Stajan, Stampniak, and Blake, since the Trade Deadline.
Ponikarovsky: 4G 10A 14P +2 23 Shots
Averaging about 2.5 shots per game and 1.5 points per game.
Stajan: 0G 5A 5P +2 12 Shots
Stajan is nowhere near producing at the level he was before the tragic soccer-ball-in-the-eye-fiasco. Just five points since Antropov and Moore were traded, he's been held pointless 5 times in that span, and without a shot twice. Stajan is hardly stepping it up. In fact, he's now in a deep goal scoring slump and hasn't put the puck in the back of the net for 14 games, going back exactly a month to February 21st when he scored a short-handed goal in the Mats Sundin/Vancouver game.
Stempniak: 3G 3A 6P -3 25 Shots
Held pointless 3 times, but never held without a shot, he's averaged over 2.5 shots per game in his last 9. His numbers are still less then thrilling, though, especially the minus 3.
Blake: 3G 3A 6P Even 37 Shots
Blake's output has suffered a bit with the loss of Moore. Held pointless 4 times in the last 9 games, including the first 3 games immediately after the Trade Deadline, Blake's offensive numbers look similar to Stempniak's. He does have one multiple point game in there though, while Stempniak does not, and he continues to be a shot-firing machine, with never less then at least 2 shots, averaging over 4 per game in this stretch. All those shots, and the fact that his plus/minus is at Even, indicate that Blake is still playing fairly well and continually pressuring the other team's defence. Without Moore's occasionally brilliant instincts however, success just isn't coming as often.
This post isn't meant to slam any of those other players (although Stampniak and Stajan could both sure use a kick in the butt), but simply to point out how well Poni has adapted and grown in the absence of Antropov and Moore. The word blossom comes to mind. As a final comparison, let's look at the stats of the two forwards that were traded and see how well they've done in their new enviornments:
Antropov has played well in New York with 4 goals and 4 assists for 8 points in 8 games, on 19 shots and an even plus/minus. Not bad at all, but imagine what we'd be saying if he had 14 points and two 4-point games already under his belt in the Big Apple?
Moore, meanwhile, has made less of a splash in Buffalo, picking up a goal and 2 assists for just 3 points in his first 8 games with the Sabres. He has 14 shots on goal, and is a plus 2.
Hopefully this is just the start for our Poni-boy on his journey to becoming a Poni-man. If he can finish the season the way he's playing right now, he should be able to come into camp next season with an abundance of confidence and maturity, ready to assume an important leadership position on the team. For years, Ponikarovksy played second-fiddle to Antropov's lead, the tall, lanky Kazakh's long, lanky shadow shielding Alexei from the spotlight, but also from stardom. Finally, the time has come for Poni to emerge and show us what he can do on his own. Indeed, it might be the best thing that could have happened to him.