LEAFS SNAPSHOTS: Usual Matthews resurfaces, Tavares 'greatly' appreciates SickKids visit

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That’s the Auston Matthews that Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe knows. 

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After scoring once in his previous nine games, Matthews had a pair of goals against the Boston Bruins, including the tying goal with six seconds remaining in the third period.

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Though the Leafs wound up losing 4-3 in overtime against their Atlantic Division rivals, Keefe afterward called Matthews a “beast” and expanded on that following practice on Sunday at the Ford Performance Centre. 

For Keefe, there are telltale signs when Matthews is dominating, as the Leafs’ No. 1 centre did versus the Bruins.

“Skating and just attacking,” Keefe said. “He and I have had this conversation about him being more assertive in shooting the puck. That’s a big piece of who he is and what he can do for our team. 

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“It’s not just because of the goals that come from it. There’s a lot of chaos and randomness and things that can occur when he shoots the puck because it creates a little bit of panic on the opposition. They can leave their positioning and it affects their ability to cover other people who are on the retrievals to get the next puck. That’s a big part of it. It’s making sure he continues to have that mindset.”

Matthews’ seven shots on goal were one off his season-high of eight, a total he has hit twice in 22 games.

The line of Matthews between Matthew Knies and Mitch Marner, more often than not, controlled play in the offensive zone at five on five.

And though Tyler Bertuzzi has just one goal in his past six games, Keefe has few complaints about the winger’s overall performance. 

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“(Saturday) night was maybe the most competitive I’ve seen him on the puck; he had a heavy stick and was creating turnovers,” Keefe said. “(Bertuzzi’s game) has been trending in such a good direction for a long time. He’s in a really good place. It took longer than probably any of us would have liked and certainly for him coming in here you want to impress, you want to do well early.

“(Yelling at Bertuzzi on the bench) got some attention a couple of games ago for one mistake on the ice, but one mistake doesn’t take away from that. He’s found a really nice groove and is moving his feet and is more involved.”


The Leafs will be at SickKids hospital on Monday, making their annual Christmastime visit. 

For captain John Tavares, there has been a new perspective in the past few years as he has become a father of two boys and a girl. 

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“It’s a long tradition here with the club and it’s amazing what one or two moments can do, a few seconds, just to take their mind away from what’s going on and where they are and the things that they have to do on a daily basis,” Tavares said of visiting the young patients and their families. “I couldn’t imagine seeing your child go through something like that and, as a parent, how you deal with that. It’s hard to fathom.”


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There’s the recognition by Tavares that the visits can be as important for the parents.

“It’s a moment for everybody to try to take them outside of the room they’re in and the amount of people that they have to see and deal with the results they’re waiting to hear about,” Tavares said. “We’re thrilled to do it. We know how much support we get. We greatly appreciate it.”

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Defenceman William Lagesson was sick and did not practise. Ditto for goalie Ilya Samsonov, who didn’t back up Joseph Woll on Saturday for the same reason. “Seems to be that time of the year and it’s making its way through the room, so we’re going to have to manage that,” Keefe said. “Samsonov is still not feeling up to it. The way our schedule is, it was easy to give him another day (to recover).”  … Martin Jones, recalled from the Toronto Marlies on Saturday, practised with the Leafs in Samsonov’s place … Morgan Rielly didn’t sound like he lost sleep after he was on the ice for all four Bruins goals. “I watched (the game) back,” the veteran defenceman said. “I was happy with the way it went (in general). That’s just how it goes some nights. That’s just part of it. You can’t let that affect the way you view the whole game.” … Timothy Liljegren took to the ice before his teammates, getting in a skate with good range of motion as he continues to recover from a high ankle sprain. The defenceman has been out since Nov. 2, when he was tripped into the boards by Bruins captain Brad Marchand. “No set timeline, other than to say (the Leafs medical staff is) really happy with how he has progressed,” Keefe said. “He has felt good on the ice and he has been able to do a lot more than they perhaps anticipated. That’s encouraging. I haven’t been told to expect him in practice in the near future, but he is progressing well. When I had him with the Marlies, he went through a high ankle sprain. He told me this one doesn’t feel nearly as bad as that one coming back.” … Marner dropped the fishbowl-style face shield he was wearing after taking a shot by Florida’s Matthew Tkachuk off the face last week, opting for a regular visor during practice.

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