SUNRISE — Matthew Tkachuk is coming back to the Florida Panthers after serving a two-game suspension just in time to meet some of his old pals from Edmonton.
The star power forward was hit with the suspension for high-sticking Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick in the final minute of a 5-4 loss last Saturday night.
Despite missing two games, Tkachuk still holds a two-point lead for the team lead in points (17) and is second on the team in goals (five) behind his linemate, Carter Verhaeghe.
He returns to the lineup against a team he was very familiar with in his time with the Calgary Flames.
Saturday’s game at FLA Live Arena will not have the intensity of the ‘Battle of Alberta,’ but Tkachuk and the Edmonton Oilers should resume their old rivalry in Sunrise.
”It won’t mean as much as it did in Calgary, but it is still a huge game,” he said.
”For myself, I’ve played against them a lot so I’m more familiar with them, but at the end of the day, there are two points on the line. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing Tampa or Arizona or somebody out there you don’t have much history with. It’s probably not as historic as it was when I was in Calgary, but it still means a lot.”
While Tkachuk said it was “disappointing being out of the lineup,” he placed the blame on the suspension on himself.
Tkachuk was caught on video hitting Quick in the face with his stickblade but was not penalized, at the time, by officials on the ice.
”I pride myself on playing as much as I can each and every season,’’ he said. “I know that I have to evolve as a player and it was definitely a mistake on my end and something that I’ve learned from but I have learned throughout my career and I’ve changed myself as a player and I don’t want to be in that situation again.”
Tkachuk, who is known to be an agitator around the league, has now served four suspensions throughout his seven-year career.
While he still likes to get under his opposition’s skin, he is continuing to learn how to channel that tenacity in a more disciplined way.
”You have to learn to not put yourself in those situations,” Tkachuk said.
”I am still going to have that intensity and I will still play hard but I am trying to stay away from those little mistakes.”
A controversial goaltender interference call on Tkachuk that would have put Florida up 2-1 in the second period of its loss to Los Angeles could very well have been reason for animosity to brew between the two.
He said that was not the case.
”I wasn’t really frustrated at that too much,” he said. “I think with the way the game was going, I was just trying to get a goal one second and I was pushing a bit. Maybe I was a little frustrated being down, but nothing personal.”
Panthers coach Paul Maurice believes that he should not have to slow down his game to be able to avoid further suspension.
”He is a hard worker on the ice and in the gym but he is not out of control,” he said.
”He is not going to run away from you. If you want to have a get together, he is fine with that idea. But no, I haven’t felt that [he needs to calm down his game] at all.”
Maurice also believes that Tkachuk is more likely to be penalized for his actions because of the reputation he has gotten around the league.
“You are going to cross the line when you play like that,” Maurice said.
”But Tkachuk is also under far greater scrutiny, so his line isn’t quite as far out there. Some other guys will get away with more because they haven’t early on or they are nice to the refs or whatever the reason is, but there is a lot more to this young man than that.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
EDMONTON OILERS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Saturday, 4 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Split 1-1
- All-time regular season series: Edmonton leads 21-14-0, 3 ties