Matthew Tkachuk scored his first hat trick as a member of the Florida Panthers, and added an assist, to lead the Cats to a 5-3 victory over the visiting Arizona Coyotes in front of a surprisingly large crowd at FLA Live Arena.
Tkachuk started the scoring 1:09 after the opening faceoff. After Karel Vejmelka stopped Gustav Forsling’s routine shot from the left point, Aleksander Barkov sent the juicy rebound over to Tkachuk, who fired it into the beckoning net.
Eric Staal lit the lamp for the second consecutive game when he went high on Vejmelka from the lower right circle at 11:21. The goal was similar to the one he scored against the Rangers on Sunday and came after Marc Staal did a nice job of holding the puck in the zone, moved into the slot and was denied by the Arizona keeper.
A holding call on struggling Aaron Ekblad, put the Desert Dogs on a late power play and they cashed in with three seconds left in the period. After the Coyotes did a fine job of moving the puck around, Barkov let defenseman Jakob Chychrun get behind him and bang in Clayton Keller’s goalmouth pass. The secondary assist went to Nick Schmaltz, who returned after missing the Tampa Bay game.
The teams would combine for five goals in the second period.
Keller drew the Coyotes even at 5:17 when he took a pass from Juuso Valimaki and curled his way from left to right before shoveling a backhand by Spencer Knight and off the far post and in.
Tkachuk put the Cats back on top 5:20 later. After Josh Mahura held the puck in along the left side boards, he sent a knifing diagonal pass down low to Tkachuk, who had time to pick his spot and lift a shot that went in off Vejmelka’s left shoulder.
Former Panther Nick Bjugstad got one against his old team at 13:59, deflecting J.J. Moser’s half-slapper from the left point past a helpless Knight after Jack McBain dropped the puck back to the defenseman. Arizona only had two shots in the frame at that point and both found pay dirt.
Thankfully, both Staal the Elder and Tkachuk had another goal left in them.
Staal notched his first brace as a Panther at 16:01 after his little brother missed wide and Tkachuk, just off the bench, got to the rebound which came out the other side. Tkachuk whipped a cross to Ryan Lomberg, who slid the puck into the slot for Staal to drive by Vejmelka, giving Florida the lead for the third time.
This time the lead held as Tkachuk completed the scoring and got the hatty for Matty at 19:39 with a power-play goal. After Arizona cleared the zone and went for a change, Knight snapped a long pass up to ice to Samson Reinhart, catching the Coyotes off guard. Reinhart found Tkachuk in front on the 2-on-1 break and he scored off his own rebound after Vejmelka repeled the first shot.
Knight fended off all 14 Coyotes shots in the final frame to guide his team to a much-needed win before they head off for a difficult looking four-game road trip that sees stops in Detroit, Dallas, Denver and Las Vegas.
Kibbles & Bits
- Matthew Tkachuk has six goals in his past four games and took over the team lead in that category, becoming the first Panther to hit the 20-mark this season. Tkachuk led all skaters with six shots.
- Spencer Knight finished with 33 saves and collected his first NHL point with his key assist on the game’s final goal. Knight picked up his first win since posting a positive 5-1 decision over the Seattle Kraken on December 3.
- Ex-Cat Nick Bjugstad’s second period goal was his tenth of the season. That’s the first time since 2017-18 that Bjugstad has reached double-digit goals. Good for you, Nick!
- Eric Staal (38 years, 66 days) is the oldest Florida player with a multigoal game since Jaromir Jagr (44 years, 24 days) on March 10, 2016. The resurgent Staal has four points in his last two games.
- Karel Vejmelka made 32 stops in a losing effort and took a high-sticking penalty on Nick Cousins that led to Tkachuk’s final tally.
- The Cats and Desert Dogs split the season series with the home team again getting the win Read more about it at Five For Howling.