According to Florida Panthers coach Bob Boughner, his team has a superstar in its midst, and the numbers appear to back him up.
Florida may have had its playoff chances slip with a recent six-game skid, but the development of top-line center Aleksander Barkov has been nothing short of a joy for Boughner and the rest of South Florida to watch.
The 23-year-old team captain and the rest of his teammates play the second game of their three-game West Coast road trip on Saturday in Los Angeles, a day game at Staples Center with the puck scheduled to drop at 4 p.m. ET.
The Panthers won the first meeting 6-1 in Florida on Feb. 23. Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Keith Yandle all scored in the second period against Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick, and the rout was on from there.
Barkov has been a vital part of the team's success all season.
The flashy but hard-working Finn has operated on a top line with Huberdeau and a number of different right wings -- Evgenii Dadonov, Mike Hoffman and Frank Vatrano -- as Boughner has tried to find the right combinations.
While Barkov's linemates may have changed from time to time, one thing that hasn't changed is the center's plentiful production, particularly recently.
Barkov had a franchise-record five assists against Minnesota last Friday, and it could have been more.
He had a goal disallowed because it was a fraction of a second late as the period ended, and another assist on an Aaron Ekblad goal was wiped out when the marker was challenged and overturned -- a potential seven-point night.
Two nights later he whipped in his career-high 30th goal against the Detroit Red Wings. His previous high was 28 in 66 games in the 2015-16 season.
Barkov has 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in his last 14 games, including a helper in Thursday night's 4-2 win in San Jose -- Florida's third straight victory following the losing streak.
"The first few years you feel your way around the league," Boughner said of his six-year veteran. "It's a learning process on how to be a pro and how to be consistent. Barky's mastered that.
"Now he's elite. He's an elite hockey player."
The Kings dropped the opener of their five-game homestand, falling 3-1 to the Nashville Predators on Thursday night. Left wing Austin Wagner returned to the lineup after a four-game absence (lower body) and scored his 10th goal for Los Angeles.
"I didn't think we had a great start in the game, which we control," said Los Angeles interim coach Willie Desjardins. "I don't think we were hungry enough.
"We can control what we do, and we talked about it before the game about being hungrier and playing harder. I think we can play better.
In the first meeting in South Florida, the Panthers blitzed Quick for five unanswered goals and handed the Kings their seventh loss in a 10-game losing streak (0-6-4).
Los Angeles is mired in a dismal 2-10-4 slump in their past 16 games, and even the return of Jeff Carter has not helped.
The 14-year veteran center has not found the net in his last 13 contests since his return from a lower-body injury and has recorded just two assists in that time.
--Field Level Media
Florida, red-hot Barkov look four 4th straight W in LA
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