SUNRISE — The last time Sasha Barkov was in the NHL All-Star Game, it looked like the Florida Panthers captain was the only one trying to play defense.
There is very little defense played in these type of events — save for baseball, perhaps — but Barkov is a creature of habit.
He is going to play his style of game regardless of the situation.
It earned him the Selke Trophy in 2021 which goes to the best defensive forward in the league.
But in the wide-open style of an All-Star Game, which is 3-on-3, offense is king.
Barkov said he does not plan on backchecking this afternoon when his Atlantic Division takes the ice at FLA Live Arena.
Some do not believe him.
”I don’t think anyone is going to like it if someone is backchecking or anything like that,” Barkov said on Thursday.
Then Barkov was reminded he was one of the few playing defense in 2018 at Tampa Bay.
”I did not get any good things for that,’’ said Barkov, who reportedly got some good-natured ribbing from his All-Star peers in Tampa. “I am not going to backcheck this year.’’
Believe it or not but there may be more defense being played in this 3-on-3 version of the All-Star Game than it was in the past with the traditional 5-on-5 format.
Back then, the NHL All-Star Game was all but unwatchable — it was the NBA All-Star Game on skates.
And without spectacular dunks.
But by going to the 3-on-3 format which is employed seemingly every night in the NHL when games go to overtime, there is no doubt a ton of offensive chances — but players try not to hang their goalies out to dry.
It happens on the regular, of course, but players are quick to get back when a puck is turned over and is headed back up the ice.
In the old days of the 17-12 NHL All-Star Games, there was very little get-back.
”There was a lot less defense in the 5-on-5 now that I think about it,” Chicago defenseman Seth Jones said. “I like the 3-on-3 and glad that the NHL changed up to this format.”
In 2016, the NHL changed things up to the 3-on-3 divisional tournament and the product has most definitely been more watchable and competitive if nothing else.
“It is pretty fun and it is obvious the All-Star Game is for the fans,’’ Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy said.
“We will try to put on a show and in the 3-on-3 game, there are more goals and a lot of scoring chances. And I hope, more saves. It is fun to play this in the All-Star Game but not as much in the regular season especially for the goalies.”
Said Nashville’s Jusse Saros: “It can be hard on the goalies, but it is fun when we are able to mix in a couple of saves here and there.”
Barkov, who made his NHL All-Star debut in 2018, is probably going to play a little bit of defense regardless of his stance leading into the game.
Before Buffalo’s Tage Thompson was hurt and replaced by teammate Rasmus Dahlin, the Atlantic team was comprised of nine forwards and two goalies.
Of the 44 players competing today between the four teams, only six are defensemen — with three of them on the Central squad.
“When I was going over the rosters, I was like, ‘man, they don’t have one defenseman’,” Jones said. “It’s just part of it. You see a lot of defensemen have success in the 3-on-3 but some of the more electric players overall are the forwards.”
With a little bit of money on the line, expect players to be on their horse today.
Although the first two games may be a little choppy based on how the players spent their Friday night on Fort Lauderdale Beach, the final game — with $1 million being split among the winning team — should definitely be competitive.
Aside from a 10-5 final in the 2019 game at San Jose, the other five championships under the new format have been close.
“Someone has to play D out there,’’ Jones said. “At the same time, the fans want to see goals and while we’re not just giving up goals to give them up, fans want to see high-scoring affairs and not a 2-1 score in a 3-on-3.
”If you end up winning the first game and it is a competitive game, you’ll see a lot more defense in the final.’’
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
NHL ALL-STAR GAME
- What: NHL All-Star Game
- When: 3 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV: ABC
- Schedule: Central Division vs. Pacific, 3 p.m.; Atlantic Division vs. Metropolitan, 4; Winning teams in Championship, 5
- Rosters: CLICK HERE
- Tournament Format: There will be three, 20-minute games played in a 3-on-3 format; goalies will rotate in at the 10-minute break. Single elimination. Winning team splits $1 million.
- Extra: NHL All-Star Beach Festival at Fort Lauderdale Beach, Noon-6 p.m.
- Up Next for the Panthers: vs. Tampa Bay, Monday, 7 p.m. (BSF)