Canadiens eye consecutive wins, visit defensive-minded Panthers

Matthew Tkachuk is heating up -- and so are the Florida Panthers.The Panthers, who have allowed two goals or fewer in 14 straight games, will face the Montreal Canadiens in Sunrise, Fla., on Thursd

Canadiens eye consecutive wins, visit defensive-minded Panthers

Matthew Tkachuk is heating up — and so are the Florida Panthers.

The Panthers, who have allowed two goals or fewer in 14 straight games, will face the Montreal Canadiens in Sunrise, Fla., on Thursday night having gone 12-2-0 during that span.

Meanwhile, after scoring just five goals through his first 36 games of the season, Tkachuk has 16 in 22 games since Jan. 1.

In fact, since the calendar flipped to 2024, Tkachuk is tied for third in the NHL and leads the Panthers with 40 points.

Florida coach Paul Maurice said Tkachuk “didn’t cheat the game” earlier in the season when he wasn’t scoring to his high standard.

“There was no selfishness,” Maurice said. “I don’t consider him a streaky player. … He’s pretty consistent every night whether the puck goes in or not.”

Another Panthers player worth tracking is defenseman Brandon Montour, who started the season on injured reserve. But Montour, who broke out last season with career highs in goals (16) and assists (57), seems to be getting hot along with Tkachuk.

Montour has 10 points in Florida’s past five games, which leads all Panthers players during that span.

“Still working towards playing my best hockey come (the playoffs in) April,” Montour said.

Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who leads all Eastern Conference goalies with 29 wins, has also been key for the Panthers. Since Jan. 24, Bobrovsky is 8-1-0 with a .945 save percentage and a 1.65 goals-against average.

Panthers center Sam Reinhart, who entered Wednesday ranking second in the NHL in goals, needs just one more tally to reach 40. However, he has gone seven straight games without a goal.

The Panthers entered Wednesday with 82 points, just one short of the top team in the NHL — the Vancouver Canucks.

Montreal, meanwhile, is in second-to-last place in the Atlantic Division. The Canadiens are on pace for their third straight season without a playoff berth.

The Canadiens have lost five of their past six games, and they have not won consecutive contests since Jan. 15-17.

Most recently, however, the Canadiens beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-2 on Tuesday. Montreal was led by former Panthers goalie Sam Montembeault, who made 36 saves.

Montembeault gave credit to his teammates, including another former Panthers standout, defenseman Mike Matheson.

“They blocked a lot of shots,” Montembeault said of Matheson and Johnathan Kovacevic.

Indeed, Montreal blocked 24 shots to Arizona’s 12.

The Canadiens are 0-2-0 in two games against Florida this season, losing 5-1 and 4-1.

For the season, Matheson leads Montreal in assists (35) and average time on ice for a skater (25:22). He ranks second in blocks (125) and third in points (43). Of his eight goals, five have come on the power play, which is tied for fourth on the team.

Matheson, who turned 30 on Tuesday, has already set career highs in assists and points. He was a first-round pick (23rd overall) by Florida in 2012.

Montembeault, 27, was selected by the Panthers in the third round of the 2015 NHL Draft and is on pace for a career-best save percentage (.904). His 3.16 GAA is his lowest since an 11-game trial in 2018-19, his first season in the league.