It’s a small sample size, but the Florida Panthers are coming off perhaps their most impressive streak of the season.
The Panthers, who will play host to the San Jose Sharks on Thursday, defeated the NHL-leading Boston Bruins 4-3 on Jan. 28. The Panthers then hosted the All-Star Game, came back and whipped their long-time nemesis, the Tampa Bay Lightning, 7-1 on Monday.
Panthers winger Matthew Tkachuk, named MVP of the All-Star Game, had two goals and three assists against Tampa Bay.
Tkachuk entered Wednesday ranked fourth in the NHL with 71 points, producing 27 goals and a team-high 44 assists. He also has a seven-game points streak, scoring five goals and dishing 10 assists during that span.
“He’s been elite all year,” Panthers forward Eric Staal said of Tkachuk. “I love all aspects of his game.”
Tkachuk trails Carter Verhaeghe, who leads the Panthers with 28 goals.
“If it’s on his stick, (Verhaeghe) knows to shoot it,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “He has the confidence of a shooter.”
The Panthers have a 30-14 goals advantage this season when Verhaeghe and Tkachuk are on the ice together 5-on-5. Sam Bennett is usually their center, and he leads all Panthers forwards with 125 hits.
Other keys for the Panthers are captain Aleksander Barkov, a strong defensive center who is tied for second on the team with 47 points; Brandon Montour, who is eighth in the NHL in points by a defenseman with 44; and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who tops the team in wins (13-13-2).
Barkov, however, has been ruled out against the Sharks after blocking a shot in Monday’s game and exiting.
Montour has a 10-game points streak, the longest ever by a Panthers defenseman. It’s also the third-longest this season by an NHL defenseman.
Meanwhile, the Sharks lost the first meeting this season to the Panthers, falling 4-3 at home in a shootout on Nov. 3.
More recently, the Sharks have matched Florida’s two-game win streak with a dandy duo of their own, beating Pittsburgh 6-4 and Tampa Bay 4-3 on Timo Meier’s overtime goal.
Meier has a team-high 30 goals this season, including a career-high 13 on the power play. He needs five more goals to match his career high of 35 overall tallies, a mark set last season.
Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson, who is in line for the Norris Trophy, has seven points in his past four games. He has 17 goals and leads the Sharks with 52 assists – tied for 2nd in the NHL — and 69 points.
San Jose goalie Kaapo Kahkonen, who beat Tampa Bay on Tuesday with 34 saves, is 7-9-4 this season with a 3.84 goals-against average.
“Just really happy for him,” Sharks coach David Quinn said of his goalie. “He’s playing really well.”
The Sharks, though, are expected to start former Panthers goalie James Reimer (8-14-6, 3.31 GAA) on Thursday.
Reimer, who spent three seasons with the Panthers, has lost three straight games, including two in overtime. He has allowed 12 goals in those three games.
Going back further, Reimer has lost 13 of his past 16 starts and hasn’t won consecutive games since November. Reimer won 53 games during his tenure in Florida.
–Field Level Media