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Matthew Tkachuk, Panthers visit high-scoring Sabres

Oct 15, 2022; Buffalo, New York, USA;  Buffalo Sabres defenseman Owen Power (25) watches as Florida Panthers left wing Matthew Tkachuk (19) dives to clear the puck from Buffalo Sabres defenseman Mattias Samuelsson (23) during the third period at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Tkachuk will look to extend his six-game point streak on Monday afternoon when his Florida Panthers visit the Buffalo Sabres.

Tkachuk leads the Panthers in goals (22) and assists (31). He has five goals and five assists in his past six games.

The Panthers, 4-2-0 in their past six games, are also fueled offensively by other top goal-scorers Carter Verhaeghe (19), ex-Sabres star Sam Reinhart (13) and captain Aleksander Barkov (11).

But Florida’s fourth line got a boost last month when the Panthers acquired Givani Smith in a trade with Detroit. Smith and linemates Ryan Lomberg and Colin White worked hard to create Florida’s first goal on Saturday night as the Panthers defeated Vancouver, 4-3.

Lomberg scored that goal and Smith earned the primary assist with a deflection.

Smith, a Toronto native who turns 25 next month, has no goals but two assists in seven games with the Panthers.

“It lifts my confidence to be a part of a team with such high-end skill,” Smith said.

Defensively, Florida is led by goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (11-13-1), who got the win over Vancouver on Saturday despite allowing three soft goals.

“Sometimes it’s the traffic,” said Bobrovsky, who has a 3.27 goals-against average. “If you can’t see the puck, you can’t stop the puck.”

Panthers coach Paul Maurice used the word “knucklers” to describe the shots that beat Bobrovsky.

“I’ve never seen a guy play as well as he did from 10 feet in and yet miss three from (50-plus feet).”

On Monday, the Panthers are set to face the highest-scoring team in the NHL in the Sabres (3.85 goals per game).

Conversely, the Panthers — who lead the league in shots on goal — rank just 13th in scoring (3.25).

The Sabres are led by their two young stars: center Tage Thompson, 25, and defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, 22.

Thompson tops Buffalo in goals (31) and points (58). He scored a career-high 38 goals last season.

Dahlin, a first-team All-Star last season, can take over games. The NHL’s first overall pick in 2018, Dahlin has a team-high 35 assists and 48 points — five off his career high.

Alex Tuch has 45 points in 41 games, tying his career high with 20 goals.

The Sabres also have some key veterans in captain Kyle Okposo and fellow forward Jeff Skinner. Both scored goals in Buffalo’s 5-3 win over the Nashville Predators on Saturday, and Okposo earned special praise from Sabres coach Don Granato.

“He’s a leader by virtue,” Granato said of Okposo, who has seven goals this season. “He’s a worker.”

Skinner has scored 18 times and is on pace for his sixth NHL season with at least 30 goals.

Still, the Sabres — who have the longest playoff drought in NHL history at 11 seasons — are banking on their young players such as defenseman Owen Power, 20. Power, the NHL’s first overall pick in 2021, has 15 assists in 38 games.

Dylan Cozens, Buffalo’s first-round pick (seventh overall) in 2019, has already set his career highs in goals (14) and assists (26). Rookies Jack Quinn and John-Jason Peterka — both 21 — have seven goals apiece. And goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, 23, leads Buffalo in wins (10-4-1) in his first full NHL season. A tall (6-5) and confident goalie, Luukkonen has a 3.50 GAA.

–Field Level Media