Florida Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov will contribute exclusive blogs twice a month throughout the season to www.nhl.com/fi.
In his most recent entry, the 23-year-old Finland-born player, talks about enjoying the break for 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend, team confidence and home games.
I tried to rest as much as possible during our break, and have some fun too. Pate -- you know him as Winnipeg Jets forward Patrik Laine -- visited me here in Florida, and we had a good time together. Got in a round of golf and an NBA game. Once he left I took a two-day trip to Key West and then just chilled at home.
I didn't count the days we had off -- it was nine, I think. It's not that I didn't care or appreciate it, just wanted to take it easy one day at a time. All I know is I took a four-day break from hockey and then slowly returned back to business. We had our first team practice Thursday and everyone was relaxed and in a good mood. That's good.
The break was great for the body and the soul. We had a pretty tight schedule leading to the break, like a game every other day, and it was somewhat exhausting. You had to focus on hockey and games all the time. It wasn't just your body that needed rest; it was your mind too.
We played really good hockey in the last three games before the break and beat three very strong teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks. We want to pick up where we left. We're a confident group now thanks to the wins, and every line and guy is playing well. But it's not good enough. We need to keep on improving our game and take more wins if we want to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I know it's possible. We know how to play to our strengths and how to win, and that's what we need to do.
We'll stay most of February at home, and that is great. We've been a good home team for the past couple of seasons thanks to our great fans. We spent most of January on the road, and maybe that's one of the reasons why we didn't play as well as we can. But no more excuses. We're home now and we better win.
Video: FLA@PIT: Barkov tips point shot home late in 2nd
It's hard to explain, but staying in your own house, sleeping in your own bed, preparing for the game at home, all those things matter. It's totally different from being a visiting team. It's the comfort of homey surroundings. Road games can do you some good. The whole team is together, and especially a win is something you want to experience with your buddies on the road. A road win, if anything, strengthens the team spirit and the confidence.
In our own locker room I sit with Jonathan Huberdeau and Bogdan Kiselevich. But I could sit anywhere in the room and feel just as comfortable. We are a great bunch of guys and we all get along so well. On the road we usually sit by the line. This way linemates can go through the game between periods and try to figure out some improvements if needed. That's good.
We still have 34 regular season games left. I wish we'll win as many games as possible and I keep on improving my game. I want to be the best I can be and help my team to win.