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Tkachuk and Bennett: A Dynamic Duo for the Florida Panthers

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Photos by Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

FORT LAUDERDALE — Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice tries to keep pairs together when switching up his lines. Two players he has not broken up since Day 1? Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk. 

Tkachuk and Bennett have stuck together since Maurice’s start with the Panthers and have been one of the most dynamic duos in the NHL ever since.

Why change anything when Tkachuk has the eighth-most points in the NHL (60-113-173) since sliding onto Bennett’s wing, and the team has been to the Stanley Cup Final?

Although the two did not play a lot together during their time with the Calgary Flames, they are inseparable in South Florida.

“He’s the guy that can do everything well,” Bennett told FHN of Tkachuk.

“He reads the play so well, he’s super gifted offensively and he’s able to make some unbelievable plays. I think we can kind of complement each other. I can use my speed in the middle, and he can slow it down a little bit on the walls and grind pucks out. So it’s just worked.

”He’s such a good player. He’s going to succeed with anyone you put him with, but I’m fortunate to be with him for a while and build off that chemistry.”

Bennett brings the best out of Tkachuk, too.

The pair plays a hard, checking style that grinds down the opposing defense, and each of them brings their own dynamic to create offense out of the plays that open up from it.

“They complement what the other player doesn’t have,” Maurice said.

“Matthew does not have blinding speed, but Bennett can get through the middle of the ice very fast. He’s very explosive, and it will open the ice, and that will pull people onto him. Matthew will draw people to him as well.

“Neither of them gets to a puck late or is afraid to go to a corner. They are good in the heavy areas and the banging areas and they can still play the game and create. They both have a synergy there.”

It showed when both Tkachuk and Bennett recorded two goals and four points in the Panthers’ 9-2 drubbing of the rival Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.

Up until the final whistle, both fought hard in puck battles, came out on top, and quickly generated offense on the other end of the ice.

“He can play in many different styles,” Maurice said of Bennett. “But the physical, grinding, fast games are built for him.”

That was what made Tkachuk (11-13-24) and Bennett (5-10-15) so dynamic during the Panthers run to the Stanley Cup Final last year, and it has shown yet again with the team playing a similar style of game during the 2023-24 regular season.

Ever since the team’s win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Dec. 23 — a game that arguably flipped a switch for the Panthers — Tkachuk has the most points in the NHL (15-27-42), while Bennett has responded to a slow start to the season with nine goals and 18 points in 23 games.

And they have arguably driven the bus at times for a team that has gone from sneaking into the playoffs for a team that struggled to adjust to Maurice’s system last year to a team with the best point percentage in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s a tough system to play game in and game out,” Bennett said. “It’s hard hockey, it’s physical, it’s a grind sometimes but I think our whole team is just bought into that system and is prepared to do the right things to win. It’s what you got to play in the playoffs and our team is prepared to play that way.”

Maurice switched things up recently and added a familiar face to their left flank.

Nick Cousins subbed in for the pure sniper Carter Verhagehe to return to their line after a successful run with them during the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

While he only picked up two goals and seven points during that run — with one of them being the series-winning goal in Round 2 of the Toronto Maple Leafs series — and only had two goals and five points in 38 games at the time of the switch, he does his part in other ways.

In the words of many around the hockey world — and himself, on occasion — he is a rat.

He mucks it up in the corners and plays a physical game, and it compliments the same checking style Bennett and Tkachuk play for the Panthers.

“He is the guy that gets in on the forecheck hard,” Bennett said. “He can make plays and I think the more games we get together, the more we’re going to find that chemistry again.

”We played really well together in the playoffs and provided that spark. We’re all guys that can get heavy on the forecheck and grind pucks, so I think that’s when we’re playing our best and I think we can do a little bit more than that.”

Since the trio reunited on Feb. 8, Tkachuk has 13 points in five games — second to only Connor McDavid in that span — Bennett picked up all four of his in Tampa, while Cousins has an assist.

But Maurice believes Cousins can provide more than just that grinding style.

“Last year, it was just balance when he went there,” Maurice said. ”It was the idea that we could have an almost pure speed line with Verhaeghe, Sasha Barkov and Anthony Duclair and then we had that sneaky checking line. And then these guys just fit.

“[Cousins] can make a play, he can hold onto pucks and he’s also very good in the corners with a puck behind the net willing to get to the front of the net. So they have a style. They will close support a puck, anything from the back of the net to that right corner, Matthew kind of owns that area for them. So they can put it there and move.

”Nick’s the smartest. He’s actually got good offensive skills that he sees. He has the skillset to be on the power play, we just don’t have room for it as of right now, but he has those hands to be able to do that. And they are going to need somebody to control the puck for them. They can’t hold onto the puck just the two of them all night, so he can even control a puck in the corner.”

And, on top of that, he helps complete one of the hardest lines in the league to play against.

“I think we’re on the forecheck and everybody’s finishing checks as long as we’re keeping our speed together and playing tight,” Tkachuk said.

“I’d say being physical and trying to wear the other team’s defense down is the most important part of our game and the way we have to play every game to be successful. If we’re not doing that, we’re not going to be successful, so it’s a hard game to play each and every night but we can do it.”

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ON DECK

OTTAWA SENATORS @ FLORIDA PANTHERS

  • When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank 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, NHL App
  • Last Season: Florida won 2-1
  • This Season (Panthers Lead 1-0) — At Ottawa: Panthers 5, Senators 0 (Nov.27); April 4. At Florida: Tuesday; April 9
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Ottawa leads 57-45-5, 3 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Thursday at Carolina, 7 p.m.
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