When he looks at the first two months of the season, Florida Panthers superstar winger Matthew Tkachuk is more than pleased with the team’s performance. The Panthers have emulated their style and effort from late last season that helped propel them to the Stanley Cup Final, and the results have shown in the standings with Florida in second place in the Atlantic Division as the calendar flips to December.
“We have a game right now that we’re playing that can not only win right now but in April, May and June,” Tkachuk said Thursday before their 5-1 road win against the Montreal Canadiens that capped a 2-0-1 trip in Canada. “That’s what we’re building toward and that’s what we’ve been playing like in the last few [games]. That’s really exciting for us.”
What’s even more impressive: The Panthers have done this despite a rare extended scoring lull from Tkachuk to begin the season.
The All-Star and Hart Memorial Trophy finalist from a year ago has scored just four goals in 24 games this season. His second-period goal in Florida’s 4-3 loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday was his first since Nov. 10 and snapped a stretch of 10 consecutive games without scoring a goal — tied for the sixth-longest goal drought of his NHL career and first time going that long without a goal since a 13 game-stretch late in the 2020-21 season with Calgary.
It’s tied for fewest goals he has scored this late into a season and only the second time in his eight-year career that he has fewer than five goals after two dozen games.
“I have never had a start like this to my career where offensively, things just aren’t clicking right now,” Tkachuk said before the Panthers’ three-game road trip. “It has to turn for me at some point.”
It usually does. Tkachuk scored 40 goals and tallied 109 points last season to finish third in MVP voting and became the Panthers’ playoff hero on multiple occasions on their run to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with the club. He has scored at least 20 goals in five of the past six seasons. The onus is on him to be a producer.
Meanwhile, his four goals are tied for sixth on the team. Among the players with more than him on the club: Bottom-six center Kevin Stenlund and defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, both of whom have six.
And this is despite the fact that Tkachuk leads the team in shots on goal (95), expected goals (11.17), scoring chances (94), high-danger chances (58) and rebounds created (22), per the advanced hockey statistics website Natural Stat Trick.
“He had an awful lot of chances at the start of the year that didn’t go and then it got a little dry,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “Most of the lack of point production is power play point production. That’s where the numbers are off. At five-on-five, he’s pretty darn good.”
Added forward and linemate Carter Verhaeghe: “I’m not too worries about him. He’s a hell of a player, a leader on this team and one of the best players in the league. Sometimes the puck isn’t bouncing. He’s getting the looks. He’s pretty good about it. He’s sticking with it. He’s gonna get a lot of goals.”
That said, Tkachuk has made it clear many times before that he doesn’t care if he’s the one scoring. Maurice echoes that sentiment. Team success is the priority.
And two months into the season, the Panthers have succeeded more often than they have failed.
But if and when Tkachuk starts scoring, this Panthers team has the potential to be even more dangerous than it has already shown it can be.
“I am only concerned about the overall team game. I don’t care who scores,” Maurice said. “I know Sam [Reinhart] is in the lead, but I don’t know where anyone else sits because I don’t look at it. It does not tell me where our team is. It’s not important to the team. If Matthew breaks 100 points, fine; if he gets 75, fine. The only thing that matters is wins and losses and style of play. We’re ahead of where we were last year, so I am fine where we’re at.”