Matthew Tkachuk dazzled once again Monday night with a between-the-legs shimmy early in the third period against the Sharks, a goal that essentially ended all hope of a late-game comeback for the home team.
Stretching the Flames’ lead to 5-2 (before the eventual final score of 6-2), Tkachuk showed once again why he is considered one of the rising stars in the NHL. With just under a minute remaining on the power play, the 22-year-old winger found the dead ice after a missed pass broke up the play. With his head up and eyes peeled to the puck, Noah Hanafin hit Tkachuk with a slap pass to the right of San Jose goaltender Aaron Dell’s cage.
With a drop of the shoulder, Tkachuk persuaded Dell to move before the youngster pulled the puck between his legs and launched it over the goalie, off the bar and into the net.
Tkachuk’s hockey excellence began well before he was drafted sixth overall by Calgary in 2016. Matthew and his brother Brady grew up on the ice in St. Louis, where their dad Keith played nine seasons for the Blues. Both boys made their first NHL All-Star Game this season.
When Matthew came onto the scene in the 2016-17 season as a rookie, many were intrigued by what he might do. Forty-eight points (13 goals, 35 assists) as a rookie wasn’t a bad start, and he followed that up with a 49-point season (24 goals, 25 assists) in eight fewer games (68) in Year 2.
It was last season, Tkachuk’s third, when he exploded with 77 points (34 goals, 43 assists), missing only two games. In a five-game playoff series against the Avalanche in which the Flames were upset, Tkachuk added three points on two goals and an assist.
Tkachuk is on pace for 65 points this season, and the Flames do not hold the top seed in the Western Conference like they did last year, signaling an apparent drop-off. But when a player like Tkachuk breaks into the league the way he did, teams take note and adjust their approach to stop him. Zack Kassian is proof.
Yes, the Oilers forward only took exception to the young Flame after Tkachuk delivered two powerful checks on him in their meeting on Dec. 27. But much of the aftermath of that conflict and the build-up to their Jan. 29 rematch centered on the fact that Tkachuk is no longer a new kid in the league, and that he needed to answer the bell if he plans to play so heady.
Tkachuk answered the bell by engaging in a fair fight with the Oilers enforcer during that rematch. He did so as Edmonton fans in the stands donned Tkachuk turtle shirts, poking fun (and shame) at the Flames winger for refusing to fight Kassian in their prior encounter.
Tkachuk’s impact on Calgary’s squad is evident on the scoresheet even with the added attention from opposing teams. He is just 12 points off what he was able to do last year when no one knew how to defend him. He is still able to make plays like the one he made on Monday night.
And Tkachuk does it in more ways than one. On Oct. 31, he scored a between-the-legs buzzer beater in overtime against the Predators — off the rebound, he slid his stick between his skates and lifted the puck to light the lamp as the clock ran out.
It secured the second point in the standings as well as his spot as a star in the NHL.
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