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Leafs hope to see more Matthews magic against Ducks

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews - The Canadian Press

The Maple Leafs and Anaheim Ducks skated at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday morning. 

It's hard for the first-year Leafs to comprehend what Auston Matthews is doing this season. 

"I don't know if he's got a little remote control in that puck or what's going on, but the guy knows how to shoot the puck," said veteran winger Ryan Reaves

Matthews leads the league with 45 goals in 51 games. 

"I don't understand it," Reaves said. "I can't even do that in the video game, to be honest with you. Like, it looks like he's playing a different game than everybody else. Just the way he handles the puck, the way he shoots it, how hard he shoots, like, the exact spots he puts it, it's impressive. It's fun to watch. I hope to continue watching." 

Matthews produced his fifth hat trick of the season on Saturday in a 4-3 overtime win against the Philadelphia Flyers. All three goals he scored on Samuel Ersson came from at least 30 feet out. All three came within an eight-minute stretch of game time. 

The longer-tenured Leafs barely blinked. 

"He's the best goal scorer in the league," said winger William Nylander.  "So I don't know what else to tell you." 

"It's not even that good of scoring chances," pointed out defenceman Timothy Liljegren. "Just something he does."

Matthews may be on pace for 71 goals, but remains hungry for more. The 26-year-old was the first skater on the ice ahead of the Leafs workout on Saturday morning. 

Like Reaves, Max Domi is in his first season in Toronto. He is impressed by the dedication and passion for the craft that he sees in Matthews. 

"Scoring goals, I mean, that's all he thinks about," Domi noted. "He's the best in the world at what he does and we're very lucky to have him." 

That would make the Anaheim Ducks the unlucky ones on Saturday night as they make their lone visit to Toronto this season. 

"He had like 100 shots last time we played them," said Ducks coach Greg Cronin. 

Not quite. Matthews finished with a season-high 13 shots against Anaheim on Jan. 3 and finally broke through by scoring the overtime winner.  

"He's a hard guy to handle," said Cronin. "He's long and he adjusts his shot and he's got great timing. I mean, he's hard to stop so I don't have a specific game plan for ya. He's going to get the puck. He's going to get his shots. Hopefully, he gets shots that are outside the real dangerous areas and hopefully, we can minimize some of those scoring chances."

Ducks defenceman Radko Gudas missed the game in January due to illness. However, the burly blueliner did suit up for Florida in last year's playoff series against Toronto when Matthews was held without a goal in five games. 

How did the Panthers do it? 

"Just not giving him enough space, not making him feel comfortable in any of those games, so that was really important for us," Gudas recalled. "Our whole team did a great job with our centres being low and slow all the time, being underneath him, being on the defensive side 90 per cent of the time was very important."


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Gudas will be playing in Toronto for the first time since the emotional Game 5 overtime win. 

"It's a great feeling walking in here," the 33-year-old said. "I was excited for this night."

Gudas was on the ice when Nick Cousins scored the clinching goal and celebrated by screaming in the face of goalie Joseph Woll.  

"When we shook hands, I said something," Gudas revealed. "It's one of the emotional moments when a lot of stakes are high so you let loose."

Gudas was asked about the moment a few times on Saturday morning. 

"It's a long time ago," he said. "I still can't believe you guys talk about it."

It was a similar sentiment down the hall. 

"This is so long [ago]," said winger Mitch Marner. "I’m not talking about this."

Although Reaves did say he hopes the return of Gudas injects some extra emotion into Saturday's game. 

"I don't think anybody's going to be chasing him around the ice," Reaves said. "I'll have my eye on him for sure, but he's going to play his game like he always does and we're going to play ours."

The celebratory scream wasn't the only flashpoint for Gudas in the series. He also crushed Leafs centre David Kampf with a huge hit at the end of a play in Game 4.

"That's a hit with no intention other than to hurt the player," coach Sheldon Keefe fumed at the time. 

Gudas leads the Ducks defence in hits per 60 minutes. 
"He likes to play the body," Marner said. "He likes to play physical and you got to be aware when you're on the ice. He's looking to try and punish you as much as he can. For us, it's just making sure we're moving our feet, moving the puck quickly,  and making it kind of work against him."

Gudas was signed to be a mentor to some of Anaheim's young players and Cronin highlighted that leadership on Saturday morning. 

"When [we] signed him, I didn't know much about him," Cronin said. "You see him and he's like a villain on the ice. You hate playing against him because he's such a pain in the ass to play against, but then when he's on your team you really appreciate him."  

A guy that Toronto fans would love if he wore the Maple Leaf. But Gudas wasn't interested in playing in a Canadian fishbowl when he hit the open market last summer. 

"I have a big family," he said. "I like my life outside hockey too."


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Lukas Dostal stopped 55 of 57 shots to earn the Ducks a point against the Leafs on Jan. 3. The headline in the Toronto Sun after the game read, "Matthews saves day in OT after no-name goalie vexes Maple Leafs."

The Ducks didn't appreciate the characterization of Dostal as a no-name goalie. 

"His name is Lukas Dostal. He had 55 saves last night. He was NHL Rookie of the Month in October. Be better, @TorontoSun," the team said in a post on X.

Gudas didn't like it either. 

"I was a little disappointed in the media here that they called him 'no-name goalie,'" said Gudas. "It was a little something that he got a little fire in him."

For his part, Dostal shrugged it off. 

"You don't really worry about those things," the 23-year-old from Czechia insisted. "Sometimes there's some of those articles, but I don't really read it so it doesn't really matter." 

Dostal will get another start against the Leafs on Saturday.

"It was obviously phenomenal by their goaltender," said Marner of the last meeting. "We got to do a better job of just trying to be in his eyes, make it a little harder tonight, and make sure when we're getting our chances, we're capitalizing on them or at least getting second looks."

Dostal's save percentage is .900 through 25 games this season. 

"Trying to be composed," the 6-foot-2 goalie said of his style of play. "I really have to rely a lot on my reads. I'm not one of the biggest goalies so I have to be composed and in the right positions."  

"Great reflexes," noted Cronin. "He's not a big guy by the average standard, but he makes up for that with his aggression and is real quick. Reads the game well."

Dostal admired the composure of Carey Price while growing up and lists the Montreal Canadien legend as his role model. 

"He was an amazing skater, in my opinion, which is one of the things that stood out for me always," Dostal said. "The skating gets you to the positions. I feel like he was always in the right spot when I was watching him so, obviously, if you're not a good skater then you're always out of position." 


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After starting Tuesday and Thursday, Ilya Samsonov will get the night off for the Leafs on Saturday. 

Martin Jones is ready to return after picking up a minor injury in practice on Monday. 

"I thought it was a good time to have a different goaltender in tonight just to [manage] the workload," Keefe explained. "We have a practice tomorrow, we play a 12 p.m. game in St. Louis, and then we have a back-to-back coming up." 

The Leafs open up a four-game road trip on Monday afternoon in St. Louis. They will also play Wednesday in Arizona, Thursday in Las Vegas and next Saturday in Colorado. 

"It is less about tonight," said Keefe. "It is more forecasting ahead, but also, it's been two games for Samsonov already this week, and it is a busy stretch upcoming."

Samsonov will dress as the backup goalie. 

Dennis Hildeby, who was with the team on an emergency recall, will head back to the Marlies in the American Hockey League. 


John Tavares will miss Saturday's game due to an undisclosed injury. 

"It is pretty minor," Keefe stressed. "He is just unavailable today."

Domi moves up to the second-line centre spot between Tyler Bertuzzi and Nylander. 

"He's a great player," Domi said of Nylander. "Has the puck on his stick a lot, pure shooter too, and everyone knows how good he is, so looking forward to it." 


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Bertuzzi is goalless in 19 straight games and was benched late in the third period on Thursday after taking an offensive-zone penalty, which led to Philadelphia's tying goal. A few minutes earlier, Noah Gregor had been whistled for roughing. 

"It is a penalty you can't take," said Keefe. "Between that penalty and the Gregor penalty, you can't take those at any time — they're a retaliatory penalty and a penalty below the goal line in the offensive zone — but especially when you are protecting a lead. It had been a pretty quiet third period, generally speaking, up until that Gregor penalty, and then they gained life and momentum. Those are things we have to do better, but I don't see anything with frustration and Bert in that sense."

Bertuzzi has scored just one goal in 32 games dating back to late November. He has taken a penalty in three of the last five games.

"Bert is getting lots of chances," Keefe pointed out. "He is squeezing it and all of those kind of things, but to me, he is not playing poorly. That is why I am not too concerned about it in terms of moving him around [lines]. He is getting looks."

Bertuzzi, who produced 10 points in seven playoff games with the Boston Bruins last season, was not available to the media on Saturday morning. 

"I still feel really strongly that this guy is going to be a very important player for us," Keefe said. "I think this guy is fearless. He is a competitor. The higher the stakes get, he is going to rise to the occasion. He has done that his entire career — last year in Boston, in junior hockey, or in the American league. He has been a gamer when it really counts. I don't doubt that for a second. We'll just continue to embrace the good things that he is doing and work with him to try to get these chances to fall, but there are a lot of good things in his game."


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Ducks forward Adam Henrique is No. 6 on TSN's latest trade bait list. 

"Not knowing when something might happen is probably the most difficult thing," the 34-year-old pending unrestricted free agent said. "I just try to focus on the game and that helps as part of a distraction, if you will, the in-between days when you see things."

On this road trip through Ottawa, Montreal and now Toronto, it's been a challenge to tune things out. 

"It's always great to come through Canada close to the trade deadline and see everything on TV 24/7," Henrique said with a smile. "Back home it's not as bad. Just try and handle it as best I can and try to stay in the moment."

The Brantford, Ont. native will have friends and family in the crowd on Saturday. Has he considered the possibility of being traded to the Leafs? 

"It seems like there could be a lot of landing spots," he said. "People are always saying, 'Oh, I hear this team is reaching out. I hear this team.' Unless you're the GM it's hard to know how much truth is behind certain things. So, again, I try not to focus on any certain thing." 

Henrique is tied for second on the Ducks with 15 goals in 52 games. 


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Leafs defenceman Mark Giordano is away from the team following the death of his father. 

"We're going to give him his privacy," said Marner. "It's heartbreaking to hear the news."

Max Lajoie took Giordano's spot on the third pair beside William Lagesson at the morning skate. He's played four games with the Leafs this season with the last one coming on Dec. 12. 


Lines at Leafs skate

Knies - Matthews - Marner 
Bertuzzi - Domi - Nylander 
McMann - Holmberg - Robertson 
Gregor - Kampf - Reaves 

Brodie - Liljegren 
Benoit - McCabe 
Lajoie - Lagesson 

Jones starts 


Lines at Ducks skate

Henrique - Carlsson - Strome 
Vatrano - McTavish - Terry
Killorn - Lundestrom - Silfverberg 
Johnston - Carrick - Leason / Jones 

Fowler - Lindstrom 
Vaakanainen - Gudas 
Mintyukov - Lyubushkin 

Dostal start