BUFFALO – At this point, 53 games into a lost season, why not keep playing defenseman Victor Antipin? Plenty of Sabres won’t be back next year. Why not use the final 29 contests to evaluate the Russian rookie? He might have a future here.
Like any newcomer, Antipin, a KHL All-Star last season, has struggled. Still, he has showcased glimpses of becoming the slick puck-mover the Sabres envisioned when they signed him to a one-year contract last year.
During the team’s recent 3-0 road trip, Antipin, who will be scratched tonight against the Anaheim Ducks, stood out, playing perhaps his best NHL games.
“I really liked the games he played up in Edmonton and Vancouver,” Sabres coach Phil Housley said this morning inside KeyBank Center. “He was take-charge, he was very noticeable, and then I think he got away from that.
“For him to stay in the lineup, that’s what we’re looking for. I thought he was really taking charge with the puck in our own end, very comfortable with it, making that first pass, creating his own space.”
Housley will dress 6-foot-5 defenseman Justin Falk tonight instead of Antipin against the Ducks, a heavy team.
“It’s just a matter of where we are,” said Housley, whose Sabres have lost three straight home games. “We make changes because we haven’t won. I liked Justin Falk’s game before he sat out. I thought he brought a physical element.”
He added: “When you lose some games, changes are going to be made. It’s not that (Antipin has) played horribly.”
Antipin, 25, has compiled five assists and a minus-2 rating in 29 games this season.
In other lineup news, Sabres goalie Robin Lehner will start tonight, his 40th appearance.