SUNRISE — While others on the Florida Panthers were making travel arraignments for the All-Star break, captain Sasha Barkov was content to stay right where he was: Home in South Florida.
So, when Auston Matthews was knocked out of the All-Star Game being played at the arena where Barkov’s face was once adorned, there was really only one replacement considered.
Barkov did not need to change any travel plans.
“It is home here in Florida so it means even more. I am real happy and proud to be here,” Barkov said last week when he was announced as the newest member of the All-Star Game and joined teammate Matthew Tkachuk on Team Atlantic.
“I may miss a couple of trips to the beach, but I wasn’t going anywhere. I was staying here. This place is vacation and work for me at the same time. My first one was in Tampa and I liked it. It’s kind of eye-opening. You see so many great players you look up to and you get to spend time with them not as rivals, but some as teammates. I am really excited.”
This has been a bit of a strange season for Barkov after a slow start (goal, 8 points in his first 9 games) was compounded by a lengthy bout with pneumonia cost him seven games as the Panthers took a nosedive in the standings.
He also missed three games after being struck in the knee by New Jersey’s Nico Hischier.
Lately, however, Barkov has been back to normal as both he and Tkachuk have been lightning things up.
According to NHL stats, Barkov and Tkachuk are the leading scorers in the league as both have five goals and 17 points in their past 11 games.
”I think he is playing at the top of his game,’’ coach Paul Maurice said. “And there is more — not that he is not giving his all, but that line. As Lundell matures and develops, that line will get better because Barkov will be able to do more. … His game is considerably faster than it was two months ago. He is moving up the ice at a high rate of speed.”
Barkov has a career-high 11-game scoring streak going and became the second player in franchise history to his 600 points after scoring a goal with an assist to lead the Panthers to a 4-3 comeback victory Saturday night against the Bruins.
He now needs 13 more points to tie longtime linemate Jonathan Huberdeau as the highest-scoring player in Florida Panthers franchise history.
“It certainly is great for the fans and some recognition not that he needs any for how well he has played for our franchise,” Maurice said.
“You look at how he is playing right now, how good that line is playing. It’s good for the game for him to be there. … One of the things I noticed when I first got here is you don’t realize how good Aleksander Barkov is. The why is of that if you aren’t in a big-market where media drives things, you don’t get noticed as much. When those guys came into the league, they had some tough years.’’
Sam Reinhart competed against Barkov while while with Buffalo and is now on his line, says the thing that has impressed him the most is the work ethic he brings to the rink every day.
“The things he does in practice kind of go unnoticed until you see him do it every day,’’ Reinhart said. “It is pretty ridiculous the kind of things he can do. Anytime you get to play with a guy of that caliber, you try and take advantage of it.”
As for this week itself, Barkov said one thing he is looking forward to is being teammates with Brady Tkachuk on Saturday.
When it comes to the Skills, as long as Barkov isn’t asked to be in the fastest skater competition, he is cool with anything else.
And, as Barkov indicated last year when Huberdeau went to Vegas and he was not elected in, his goal is not to win any popularity contests.
“I just do my job and my main priority is not to make All-Star teams, but to come to the rink and do my thing,’’ Barkov said. “It doesn’t matter what time of the year it is, I have the same mindset every day.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
ALL-STAR WEEKEND, SOUTH FLORIDA
- Wednesday: Florida Panthers Alumni Game at Panthers Ice Den, Coral Springs
- Thursday through Saturday: NHL All-Star Beach Festival at Fort Lauderdale Beach.
- Friday: Skills Competition at FLA Live Arena, Sunrise (ESPN)
- Saturday: All-Star Game at FLA Live Arena, Sunrise (ABC)
- Up Next for the Panthers: vs. Tampa Bay, Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. (BSF)