Tkachuk doing it all for Flames while keeping emotions in check

Ryan Leslie spoke to Matthew Tkachuk about his highlight-reel shootout goal, the performance of Flames goalie Dan Vladar, and what Calgary still needs to work on during their road trip.

LAS VEGAS — It’s hard to say whether it was Matthew Tkachuk’s first or second punch to Drew Doughty’s face that drew the two-minute sit-down.

But it’s safe to say both drew the ire of Darryl Sutter.

While no coach is ever happy going short-handed, several of Sutter’s predecessors in Calgary understood Tkachuk’s post-whistle antics were simply part of the deal.

Tkachuk’s is a sublimely skilled package, rounded out with an emotional buy-in that has long been able to drag him and his teammates into the proverbial fight.

A leader in every way.

However, Flames observers have seen a change in Tkachuk this year — not just in his productivity and engagement, but in his toned-down approach to extra-curriculars.

While he’ll never shy away from a net-front scrum, he’s kept a lid on elevating things, which is something Sutter addressed.

He wants it kept in check.

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“There’s not much to get done after the whistle,” shrugged the coach.

“I don’t want our players going to the penalty box after the whistle unless somebody else got drilled or they fell on our goalie or something like that.

“It doesn’t serve any purpose.”

The message wasn’t delivered just to Tkachuk.

“No, we talked to our team about it,” said Sutter.

“It’s not about individuals, very simple.”

A perfect example of Tkachuk’s more measured approach this season came late in Friday’s shootout win in Anaheim when Trevor Zegras dropped the unsuspecting Flame with a significant cross-check.

Once on his feet, Tkachuk engaged in the ensuing exchange of ideas, but maintained his cool as the lads discussed things.

Restraint.

He’s shown plenty of it.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

And while many believed his emotional investment in needling the opposition was often tied to better play, he’s proving he can produce while limiting controversy and carnage.

Tkachuk is still accruing penalty minutes at a rate of one per game — his career average.

But by focusing more on the game itself, the rest of his stats have flourished, putting him on a pace to eclipse 40 goals.

His career high is 34, which seems imminently beatable given the chemistry on his line with Elias Lindholm and Johnny Gaudreau, the league’s most prolific trio at 5-on-5.

Tkachuk hinted during training camp that perhaps he’d tone things down when he suggested he didn’t get paid for what he did after whistles.

Other than that, he’s long been reluctant to dish on the subject.

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“I think he matured a lot over the summer, came in with the right attitude and ready to kind of change and get things moving in the right direction as far as how he plays day-in and day-out how he works day-in and day-out, and changing the culture and what it needed to be in order for us to be a good team again,” said Milan Lucic.

“I think he’s really stepped up and done that. I think that’s why he’s been the player he has been so far this year.

“He needs to keep growing and keep getting better as far as that goes, and we’re going to get the Matthew Tkachuk that we all want to see.”

That player has fit in as every bit the playmaking wizard on a line that didn’t allow a single goal against until Game No. 20.

No line has played more minutes together in the NHL, buying into Sutter’s 200-foot demands while scoring at a clip that has all three in the NHL’s top 40.

Tkachuk is the complete package, which is why he’ll be qualified at $9 million next season in his final year as an RFA.

“It’s more than goals,” said Sutter when asked about Tkachuk’s game-winner Thursday in Los Angeles, where he and Doughty only shared one significant slice of open animosity.

“It’s got to be more than goals. If it’s just about goals and assists, then our team is not going to get better.

“He’s playing a more complete game and manages his game better. That’s the difference.”

Just two points away from being just the second player from the 2016 draft to reach 300 points (behind his pal Auston Matthews), Tkachuk has 11 goals, nine helpers and sits amongst league leaders at plus-13.

While he may not be quite as pesky as he once was, his skill and ability to agitate has him leading all NHLers over the last six seasons by drawing 196 penalties.

Only Tom Wils,on and Connor McDavid are close.

With his numbers and engagement down last season following a highly-publicized post-game meltdown involving a Jake Muzzin puck flip, he needed a bounce-back season.

So far so good.

Upset at his dwindling ice time last season, his minutes are up and he’s a fixture on the top line this season, thriving while adjusting to playing his off-wing on the right side.

Asked what he was proudest of about his game this season, the 23-year-old shrugged.

“Nothing,” said Tkachuk.

“I want to come in here and be a part of a winning team — a championship team — and just play good hockey and give myself a chance to play in the playoffs again.

“I think that’s what everybody in that locker-room wants.”

A decidedly business-like approach for a savvy businessman and NHL pro.

He, like everyone in Flames silks, has bought in, which goes a long way towards explaining how his club landed in a tie atop the NHL standings with a win Friday in which he punctuated the shootout with a one-handed, Peter Forsberg-like-deke his teammates and coaches said they’d never seen him try before.

“Blackout move,” he laughed with Sportsnet’s Ryan Leslie after the game, when asked what the move was called.

“I don’t really remember too much from it. Guys are all over me, they’ve never seen that out of me. I’ve never seen that from myself. I guess I blacked out there.”

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