The Florida Panthers have dropped three straight games in overtime and are still trying to right the ship after a mediocre start. However, doing so won’t be easy over the next few weeks without the services of top-line center Aleksander Barkov.
Barkov, 21, suffered what was reported to be a lower-boy injury during the Panthers’ Wednesday outing against the Toronto Maple Leafs, forcing him to leave the game in the second period. He was again out of the lineup Thursday night as Florida squared off against the Montreal Canadiens and it was said that he would likely be undergoing an MRI. And, unfortunately for the Panthers, that MRI revealed that Barkov would be out “indefinitely,” which was later clarified to be 2-3 weeks on the shelf by coach Tom Rowe.
Florida is well aware what losing Barkov could mean for the team, too. Rowe said that it simply wasn’t “good news” for Barkov to be out as long as he will, and defenseman Keith Yandle elaborated by pointing out just how important Barkov is to almost every facet of the Panthers’ game. It’s true, too, that Barkov has become almost inarguably the most important forward the Panthers currently have in their lineup, especially with the absence of Jonathan Huberdeau, who is still recovering from an Achilles injury suffered before the start of the regular season.
“He’s our best player, plays in all situations and is out there, control of the game,” Yandle said, according to the Miami Herald’s George Richards.
The bizarre thing, however, is that no one has yet revealed exactly what Barkov is dealing with.
The prevailing theory, especially after Barkov left the ice, is that he had suffered some sort of injury to his midsection when he blocked a Yandle shot in the second frame of Wednesday’s game. That was furthered by the fact it was Barkov’s final shift of the outing before he headed to the dressing room for good. Asked about the injury, though, Rowe told Richards — he actually guaranteed it, too — that Barkov wasn’t dealing with a rib injury.
Still, that won’t make anyone in Florida feel much better about missing Barkov for the better part of January.
A three-week timeline for return for Barkov would put him out of the lineup until nearly the all-star break, and having already missed one game and set to miss another on Saturday evening against the suddenly hot Dallas Stars, there’s a chance Barkov could be sidelined up to a dozen games. For a team that isn’t exactly stacked down the middle, that’s cause for concern.
With Barkov out of action, Vincent Trocheck will take top-line duty, Nick Bjugstad will move up to become the second-line center, while Michael Sgarbossa and captain Derek MacKenzie will split the bottom-six minutes.
Florida, who won the Atlantic Division in 2015-16, sit six points back of the Philadelphia Flyers for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference ahead of Friday’s action.
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