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Sasha Barkov ‘ready to go’ as Florida Panthers return to play

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Florida Panthers Sasha Barkov
Florida Panthers captain Sasha Barkov works out during practice on Sunday. // Photo @ColbyDGuy

After missing 13 of the last 14 games, Sasha Barkov appears to be back in the fold for the Florida Panthers when they play host to the New York Rangers on Wednesday.

“I think he looks ready to go,” Panthers interim coach Andrew Brunette said.

“It was good to get him these couple of practices and see how he feels tomorrow and we’ll make a decision based on that.”

Barkov returned from a left knee injury on Dec. 7 in a 4-3 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues, suffering an upper-body injury during his return.

He missed the past four games the Panthers played before their season was put on pause on Dec. 17 with Covid-19 postponements and the holiday break.

Despite playing in just 16 of Florida’s 29 games, Barkov still holds a share of the team’s lead in goals with 10 on the season.

He also became the franchise’s leading goal scorer on Nov. 10, passing Olli Jokinen’s total of 188 career goals.

“[Barkov] can miss two years and he’s so talented that it doesn’t seem to affect him,” Brunette said on the possible return of the team’s captain.

The Panthers held a mini-scrimmage at practice on Monday and Barkov, as well as Mason Marchment and Maxim Mamin, all took part.

“I thought it was important to get a little game-like speed,” Brunette said.

“Whenever you have a break, a lot of it is the puck battles, things happen faster than just a normal practice, so we’re just trying to get a little bit of chaos in there for them so they get their timing back.”

Marchment, who missed the last two months with an upper-body injury, is also slated to return per Brunette.

“It gets him back into the pace a little bit, so he gets accustomed to it,” he said. “He’s been skating on his own a lot, so it’s nice to get him a few more practices in to get him caught up.”

The 6-4, 209-pound forward had seven points (a goal and six assists) in 10 games so far this season, so his return will be a boost for a Panthers team that needs it.

Forwards Jonathan Huberdeau, Eetu Luostarinen, and Owen Tippett, along with defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, were placed on Covid-19 protocols on Sunday.

“He brings the unpredictable, we don’t have a lot of players like him,” Brunette said. “He’s a big, strong kid, really strong on the puck, he goes to the hard areas… we missed him when he was gone.

“He was playing the best hockey of his career in the playoffs and at the start of the year, he was playing as good as we’ve seen him play. I still think there’s another level for him offensively, so it was nice to see him out there.”

After playing in just 37 career games, notching just 11 points (two goals) Marchment notched two goals in the Panthers’ six-game first-round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“Maybe just getting a little comfortable in the league,” he said when asked what attributed to him playing his best hockey.

“I’ve grinded my way up through the ECHL, AHL, NHL, never been drafted or anything like that, so just trying to get better every year, so doing the little things in the gym, working on my stride, and stuff like that.”

Maxim Mamin, who missed the team’s last three games with injury, and Gus Forsling, who missed the last two games with the flu, are also likely to return on Wednesday.

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