MVP-worthy? Tkachuk’s scoring surge, craziest goal yet and what he’s doing with new car
Matthew Tkachuk knew the Florida Panthers’ first game out of the All-Star break was an important one, but he didn’t let it show before they routed the Tampa Bay Lightning, 7-1, on Monday.
Tkachuk, after a busy weekend around the 2023 NHL All-Star Game, skipped out on the Panthers’ optional morning skate, went through his pregame routine like he would for any other game and then went to work. For two and a half hours, he shredded the Lightning to get the Panthers their best win of the season.
“This was a big game,” center Eric Staal said Monday. “He knew it and he came to play.”
Tkachuk follows up All-Star MVP with 5 points as Florida routs Tampa. And Barkov update
Tkachuk put up five points — his most in a single game this season — and now has 71 in only 50 games, breaking All-Star left wing Jonathan Huberdeau’s mark, set last year, for the fewest games to reach 70 points in a season in franchise history.
A year ago, Tkachuk needed 60 games to reach the 70-point mark and his pace is even more torrential since the start of 2023.
The All-Star right wing has 15 points in his last seven games, 18 in his last nine and 28 in his last 15 — a pace of nearly two points per game since the start of the new year. In the middle of it, he even took a break to win All-Star Game MVP on Saturday in Sunrise, notching seven points across two 20-minute, 3-on-3 games.
“It looks like it keeps getting better,” coach Paul Maurice said Monday.
His five-point performance at FLA Live Arena presented the full package.
His final goal came on a power play, on a deflection, in the style he’s best known to play. The 25-year-old winger set a career high with 42 goals last season, with five coming on deflections or tip-ins and the about half of his 5-on-5 goals coming from within 10 feet of the net.
He also handed out three primary assists, tapping into the component of his game left wing Carter Verhaeghe has found to be most underrated.
“I didn’t know how good of a passer and playmaker he is,” said Verhaeghe, who scored twice off Tkachuk assists.
Tkachuk’s first goal, though, might have been his most impressive play of the entire season.
Right as a power play ended in the second period, Verhaeghe fired a shot at All-Star goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, hoping to create chaos around the net while Florida still had a numbers advantage. The puck caromed up into the air and Tkachuk, perched on the right doorstep, tracked it, gathered it with his stick and then swatted it into the goal before it even fell back to the ice.
“You just don’t see that,” Maurice said.
Matthew Tkachuk: good at scoring goals. pic.twitter.com/1C5zqa43SE
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) February 7, 2023
Maurice had a deep familiarity with Tkachuk, even before both arrived in Broward County in the offseason. Maurice spent most of the last eight years coaching the Winnipeg Jets and Tkachuk spent the last six with the Calgary Flames before getting traded to the Panthers. He scored 16 points in 20 games against the Jets, facing them frequently in the Western Conference.
It was no secret Tkachuk was good. He didn’t quite realize, though, the full extent of Tkachuk’s ability and he has spent most of this season raving about how good the star forward’s hands are.
“You’ve got to see it every day before you really get a true understanding of what he can do with pucks in midair. He’s an elite, elite talent,” Maurice said. “It’s like the puck doesn’t matter whether it’s on the ice or in the air.”
Tkachuk, however, was humble about the play.
“I just tried to get a little piece of it and I got pretty lucky because it his skate,” he said Monday. “It’s hard to score on him, so anytime you’re around the net you have to just try to get a little piece.”
Tkachuk conceded his All-Star performance over the weekend might have helped — he was in a rhythm and on a roll — and then he finally admitted he was a little tired after a few nonstop days, which netted him a new car and a share of the Atlantic Division’s $1 million prize.
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He’s fortunate, then, to have a few days to refresh before Florida plays another meaningful game Thursday against the San Jose Sharks. The Panthers’ win Monday moved them within a point of postseason position for the first time in more than two months and every one of their 29 games remaining will be crucial if they want to make the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Tkachuk also has some logistics to work out during these couple quiet days. For winning All-Star Game MVP, Tkachuk took home a new Honda Pilot, which he’s planning to give to his grandmother — as long as he can figure out how to get it up to Massachusetts.
“I’m trying to figure out how to get that to my grandma,” Tkachuk said. “It’s a work in progress.”
Panthers’ Aleksander Barkov misses practice
Aleksander Barkov was not at practice Tuesday at FLA Live after missing the final 28:04 of Florida’s win Monday with an apparent hand injury, but Maurice expects his All-Star center to be back on the ice as soon as Wednesday.
The Panthers plan to practice again at their home arena Wednesday before hosting the San Jose Sharks on Thursday.
Even if he doesn’t practice, Barkov could still play Thursday, Maurice said.