Maple Leafs captain Tavares: Matthews’ ability to return the puck is ‘supernatural’

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The art of stealing is just as impressive.

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As much as John Tavares admires Auston Matthews’ goal-scoring ability, the Maple Leafs captain continues to be impressed with Matthews’ defensive talent and ability to clear the puck.

“I’ve always been amazed, even in his first couple of years in the league, his batting ability is incredible,” Tavares said. “This is a talent that cannot be taught. The instinct to pull it off so quickly and turn it into an offense…he always reads the game from the right side on defense and then his ability to strip guys and use his body to take pucks and go on offense is pretty remarkable.”

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Matthews consistently passes eye exams when it comes to returning the puck, and the numbers back it up.

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Before Tuesday’s games, Matthews led the National Hockey League hitters with 89 rushes. Only one player – Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alex Pietrangelo at 90 – had more.

The Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid was second on the offensive line with 72 points, two more than teammates Leon Draisaitl and Mitch Marner of the Leafs.

“Everyone saw the ongoing evolution and physicality of his game,” Tavares said of Matthews. “Just like for him, when he shoots and uses his release and how elite it is, it’s like stripping a guy and knowing when the puck is going to be exposed, when he’s most vulnerable and how. to cover it up because the guys know it’s going to happen.”

As for Matthews’ ability to get the puck into the net? Leaves don’t take it for granted.

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“When we talk among ourselves in a group, we know that we have a pretty special player that we are playing with,” Tavares said. “We sometimes shake our heads on the bench when you see one of them come in and how he does it. It’s fun for the band to see him do what he did and go down in history with some of the milestones he’s achieved.”

REST VS. JOB

Tavares honestly answered that he would not play in Washington against the Capitals on Sunday.

Did he appreciate the night off to manage the workload?

“Yes and no,” Tavares said. “As an athlete, you want to play. I try to be proud of 82 games, but when I wake up (Tuesday) after a couple of days without ice, I physically feel a little better.

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“It’s a balance, so there’s definitely something good in it. You want to compete but you’re taking the opportunity and it made a lot of sense when (Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe) approached me about it.”

Naturally, Tavares was ecstatic as he watched his teammates rally in the third period against the Caps, wiping out a two-goal lead in the final eight minutes to eventually win the shootout 4-3.

“It was fantastic,” Tavares said. “No matter what happens, whatever the circumstances, there is a lot of faith in the group.

“It was a tough ride, so it was two big points and there was great morale after that.”

BOUNCE

Michael Banting was skating on Tuesday morning, indicating that the injury he sustained against Florida on Saturday is not serious.

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Bunting hasn’t played against the Detroit Red Wings and won’t be on Friday’s lineup against the Boston Bruins in the regular season finale, though Keefe sounded optimistic.

“He won’t be playing this week and we’ll be reviewing his estimate, but everything looks positive,” Keefe said.

Despite his absence at the end of the season, Banting appeared to be in a good position to finish among the NHL rookies in scoring.

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In Monday’s games, Banting scored 63 points, four points ahead of the Anaheim Ducks’ Trevor Zegras, who was second with 59 points.

Lucas Raymond of Detroit was third with 56 points.

FREE LEAVES

Of the Leafs’ other injured players, defenseman Rasmus Sandin, who has been out of action since March 19 with a knee injury, is the closest to making a comeback. Sandin is expected to join the Leafs for training this week. Winger Ondrej Kase (concussion) took part in the morning rolling, but there is no date for his return yet. Goalkeeper Petr Mrazek (groin) is skating and progressing well, but there is no date for his return either… Keefe on his players’ individual accomplishments, especially those who set personal bests in points: “The playoffs are about to start, everyone is going to go back to zero . You want your players to feel good and feel confident, and for that we had guys who have spent years of career both on offense and defense, whatever that is. Our guys have a lot of reasons to be positive ahead of the playoffs.” … The Leafs won the previous two games against the Bruins in 2021-22 to beat Boston 11-6… Only two teams — the Arizona Coyotes and the Vancouver Canucks — haven’t lost to the Leafs this season . None of the clubs will make the playoffs … Guard Carl Dahlström returned to the Toronto Marlies.

tkoshan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/koshtorontosun

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