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Matthews: ‘We can be a lot better’

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TSN Toronto reporter Mark Masters checks in daily with news and notes on the Maple Leafs, who practised at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Friday before flying to Edmonton ahead of Saturday’s game against the Oilers.

Auston Matthews believes he and linemates Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen have more to give.

"I feel we can be a lot better," the 21-year-old centre admitted after Friday's practice. "Our strength is our speed. I think when we take care of the puck and we just get in their zone, we're fast, you know, pretty agile, can make plays, move around in the offensive zone. I think a good goal for us is just to spend more time in the O-zone, hanging onto pucks and creating chances below the dots."

With Nazem Kadri returning from injury Saturday in Edmonton, there was an opportunity for coach Mike Babcock to shuffle William Nylander, who’s been filling in down the middle, back to the Matthews line. But Nylander remained on the third line at practice and Babcock made it clear he saw no pressing reason to change things with the Matthews group even though they haven't produced a goal in four straight.

"I thought they were pretty good last game, to be honest with you," Babcock said. "I didn’t like them as much in Calgary, but they've done a pretty good job. The biggest thing is taking care of the puck and then Auston's a big man, can roll around, and Johnny has that skill-set so does Kappy."

Matthews has just two assists in five games matching his quietest five-game run of the season. He’s one of the game's most dynamic scorers so you can understand why this dry spell doesn't sit well with him. He said establishing more of a cycle game is a priority.

"It's really important to not to be one and done because, especially towards the end of the season, that's kind of where the game's at, it’s down low, below the dots and the neutral zone's pretty jammed up so it will be a good test tomorrow night to kind of get back on track. I thought we did a better job against Vancouver and generating more chances off the cycle, but we can always be better."

"Consistency in the National Hockey League is the toughest thing to have," noted Babcock, "but we need those guys to be effective and when they take care of the puck, especially when Auston’s skating, when he's skating he’s a load, and that’s important that happens."

With only two assists in his last five games, Auston Matthews admitted today that he feels his line has more to give. The Leafs' young centre noted that with the speed and skill the trio has, they should be able sustain pressure in the offensive zone for much longer.........