Aleksander Barkov has boomerang humor.
“He’s funny,” said Penguins defenseman and fellow Finn Olli Maatta. “He can say something that gets you thinking for a while, and, then when you get it, you’re, like, ‘Oh, you got me.’”
Barkov and Maatta were on opposite sides Monday night when the Florida Panthers played at Consol Energy Center, but they will be teammates next month at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Barkov, a hulking 18-year-old center, went into the game as Florida’s leading scorer with 23 points. Maatta, 19, has established himself as a regular in the Penguins lineup. The two NHL rookies didn’t know each other growing up in Finland, but they played on two world junior championships teams together and have an obvious admiration for one another’s skills.
“He has no weakness,” Barkov said of Maatta. “He’s a very good skater. He has a very good shot, very good vision. He’s a very good passer. Everything you would like to have.”
Maatta, who entered the game with four goals, 16 points, was just as complimentary.
“He’s a really skilled forward,” Maatta said of Barkov. “He can make plays happen. He doesn’t get enough credit for his defensive game. He’s a really good all-around player. He sees the ice well. He knows where his teammates are going to be. As a defenseman, you’ve got to be really aware of him on the ice.”
One of their teammates in Sochi will be Penguins winger Jussi Jokinen, who has spoken highly of Maatta all season and was just as effusive Monday concerning Barkov. Both were first-round NHL draft picks.
“I think it goes pretty much goes without saying they don’t look like they are [teenagers]. They look like they are … I don’t know, 27, 28 years old,” Jokinen said. “It’s been fun to watch.
“Last season during the lockout, I played in the Finnish League, and I played two games against Barkov. I was playing center. He was playing center. We went head-to-head those two games. You could see he was already close to [being ready for] the NHL. Now, he’s one year older, one year faster, one year stronger. I knew he was going to be a good player.”
Dupuis’ surgery Feb. 12
Penguins winger Pascal Dupuis is scheduled to have surgery on his knee Feb. 12, coach Dan Bylsma said.
Dupuis’s right anterior cruciate ligament got torn Dec. 23 at Ottawa. The Penguins initially said Dupuis would have surgery within a couple of weeks, but Bylsma said last week doctors were waiting for some healing to take place. Recovery from ACL surgery typically takes several months.
Life at the top
The Penguins were in the enviable position going into the game of having the NHL’s most successful power play (24.7 percent) and top penalty killing (87.7 percent).
Which, according to Bylsma, doesn’t leave much wiggle room when measured against what the players expect.
“Going into the season, when we put the challenge out there for where we could be on the power play and penalty kill, we say top five would be good,” he said. “That’s not acceptable to them. They immediately say it’s got to be in the top two.”
No Thomas for Florida
The Penguins faced Florida backup goaltender Scott Clemmensen Monday night instead of the Panthers’ No. 1 goalie, Tim Thomas. Interim coach Peter Horachek said Thomas “is not feeling well right now. He’s got the sick-bug thing going on. We’re giving him a day to rest and get some fluids into him so he can be ready for [tonight at Buffalo].”
Penguins winger Craig Adams played in his 255th regular-season game in a row. That’s the fourth-longest ironman streak in Penguins history. He had been tied with Evgeni Malkin, who earlier in his career played in 254 games in a row. … The Penguins scratched defensemen Deryk Engelland and Robert Bortuzzo as four players — defenseman Paul Martin and forwards James Neal, Jayson Megna and Chuck Kobasew — returned from injuries. … Panthers center Shawn Matthias played in his 300th NHL game.
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.