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 the Panthers' adjustments, his own game and first NHL hat trick.
The second half of December has been good; we have five wins in the last seven games. Looks like we've learned to win games, and that's what we have to keep on doing. Every win may not have been pretty, but that's not the point. The point is we need wins if we want to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Every guy in the room knows where we stand and what it takes to advance to the postseason.
Our power play has been very productive, and that's great. Our penalty kill has improved of late. But the biggest change has been our style of play; we move the puck faster, exit our own zone faster than we used to and bring the puck to the offensive zone quickly. We've adopted this new system well, and you can see the results in the wins column. All in all, things are looking good for us, but we still need to improve our game. We have half of the regular season left, and we definitely can't go back to our old habits. Two words for the rest of the regular season: fast pace.
I have 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in the last seven games, but the points don't tell the whole story. Some nights the points have come easily, some nights I've worked hard but the points have avoided me. And points or not, I need to be better. I play big minutes every night, and there are moments when I don't have enough energy to stay with the puck or skate like I should. What I need to learn is to conserve some energy during the game, not skate all over the ice and not take part in every battle. It's about little things that will save some of my energy to be used in the offensive zone. I need to sort of defend my energy and use it wisely.
We played against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 15, and that was the night when I finally scored my first hat trick in the NHL. It all happened so quickly that I didn't even realize it right away. I scored the third goal in overtime, the game was over right then and there, and suddenly all the guys surrounded me. To be honest, it was a weird feeling. It must be 10 years since the last time I had a hat trick, and then to have my first one in my sixth season in this league was amazing. It was a great feeling, especially because it was also a game-winning goal. But truth to be told, the passes were so great I couldn't miss the net. I just had to be there with my stick and finish their work.
My family visited me during our Christmas break, and it was great to spend some time with them. We had three days off, and yes, I did stay away from the rink the whole time. I was a little stiff in the first game after the break, not sharp, but the second one was better for me. And it's been good since.
The New Year is right around the corner, and my wish for 2019 is the playoffs. I wish we keep on playing the way we have for the past couple of weeks and grab a playoff spot. You're not supposed to reveal your new year's resolutions, so all I'll say is that my resolutions involve little things about hockey.
Thank you to all our fans for this past year, especially our fans in Finland and other European countries who get up in the middle of the night to watch our games. Your support means the world to us, and we are very grateful. We couldn't do it without you.
Happy New Year to All!