BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP)It’s taken Matthew Tkachuk all but two games with the Florida Panthers to make his scoring and physical presence felt in the Eastern Conference.
Two days after getting off 16 shot attempts and scoring an empty-net goal in a season-opening win over the New York Islanders, Tkachuk was difficult to contain in keying a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday.
The 24-year-old acquired in a blockbuster offseason trade with Calgary scored a goal, set up defenseman Brandon Montour’s eventual winner and get under the Sabres’ collective skin.
Sabres forward Alex Tuch exchanged shoves with Tkachuk in the first period after the Panthers forward took a run at defenseman Henri Jokiharju. And the game ended with players squaring off, including Dylan Cozens getting penalized for roughing for taking on Tkachuk.
”He’s around everything, man,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. ”That’s his game, right? There’s no show going on. That’s just who he is. So he’s involved in every scrum, most of the hits and a goal a game so far, so he can keep it going if he wants.”
Tkachuk has no plans on backing down, and already looking forward to playing the Sabres again.
”Well, there’s some guys over there I’ll be playing against for the next eight-plus years,” he said, referring to the eight-year, $76 million contact he signed after being acquired by Florida. ”Especially with some of the stuff that happened at the end that they did, we’ll remember that for a while.”
Aaron Ekblad and Colin White also scored for the defending President’s Trophy-winning Panthers, who are off to a 2-0 start a year after winning their first eight. Spencer Knight stopped 24 shots in his season debut and improved to 4-0 against Buffalo after allowing a combined four goals in three starts against the Sabres last year.
Tuck and Rasmus Dahlin had a goal and assist each for Buffalo. Zemgus Girgensons also scored.
Tkachuk and Tuch are no strangers. The two were a year apart while playing at USA Hockey’s developmental program, and Tuch spent his previous four NHL seasons with Calgary’s Pacific Division rival Vegas.
”That’s the type of hockey he’s going to play. I knew it,” Tuch said. ”It’s something that he wants to bring to the table and I’d say a lot of us don’t really want to give him the time of day. But sometimes, you have to stick up for your teammates.”
Eric Comrie stopped 33 shots and assisted on Tuch’s game-opening goal, becoming Buffalo’s first goalie to earn an point in his Sabres debut. Buffalo signed the former Winnipeg Jets backup in free agency this summer.
The Sabres managed just five shots in the third period, went 0 of 4 on the power play and were unable to carry over the momentum from their 4-1 season-opening win over Ottawa.
The Panthers got their power play on track. After going 0 of 5 against the Isles, Florida converted 2 of 6 opportunities against Buffalo, with both goals coming in the second period.
With the game tied at 2, Ekblad scored 2:31 into the second period, with Dahlin serving a cross-checking penalty.
Montour made it 4-2 with 2:15 left in the period, and with Buffalo’s Jacob Bryson off for tripping. Tkachuk started the play by driving in from the right side and getting a shot on net which Comrie had difficulty handling. The puck squirted into the slot, from where Montour chipped it in.
Tkachuk’s goal, which put Florida up 2-1 with 1:51 left in the first period, came when he first screened Comrie on Gustav Forsling’s shot from the left point. And then, as the puck was dribbling wide of the right post, Tkachuk used his long reach to sweep the puck in behind the goalie.
”There’s the thing people don’t talk about as much, because if there’s some blood on the ice, he’s usually involved … but his hands are incredible,” Maurice said of a player coming off a career-best 42-goal season. ”He’s just an unusual, very unique man, that style of kind of agitator with incredible hands.”
Knight’s best save came four minutes into the second period, when he got across to his left, reached back and somehow managed to snag a shot from Jeff Skinner, who was left wide open at the post.
”It’s just desperation more at that point,” Knight said. ”I don’t really think about it. It’s just another save. ”
Panthers: Close three-game season-opening trip at the Boston Bruins on Monday.
Sabres: Open four-game trip at Edmonton on Tuesday.
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports