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Tavares back at Maple Leafs practice for first time since breaking finger

Center 'definitely getting closer and getting better' but no timetable for return

by Dave McCarthy / Independent Correspondent

TORONTO -- John Tavares practiced with the Toronto Maple Leafs for the first time Wednesday since sustaining a broken finger against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 16, though there is no timetable for his return.

"It's definitely progressing," the center said. "I wouldn't say it's exactly normal but definitely getting closer and getting better. I'm happy with the progress. Our performance, medical and equipment department has been great just trying to help me every day to get closer. It felt great to be out there with the group again."

Tavares was struck in the right hand by a shot from Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly during the 4-3 loss to the Capitals. Tavares scored later in the game but received the diagnosis afterward.

At the time, Toronto said Tavares would be out for two weeks, which coincided exactly with his return to practice Wednesday. 

The Maple Leafs do not play again until they visit the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, SNO, NBCSP, NHL.TV).

Video: MIN@TOR: Tavares buries slap shot from the circle

"I still have to get through certain hurdles to see how I respond and also get a sense through some imaging about how the healing is going," said Tavares, who has seven points (three goals, four assists) in eight games this season.

"We tried to do drills where you just were skating, so I thought he looked fine," coach Mike Babcock said. "I can't tell you when he's playing, I just know we're doing everything and he's doing everything to be ready when he gets his opportunity. The doctors will check that out and decide when he's available. I just tried to put him in a situation where he's familiar and [one he] might see if he played."

Tavares, who began shooting pucks on Monday for the first time since the injury, took a regular shift at practice on a line with Trevor Moore and Mitchell Marner. He said shooting is less of an issue right now than other areas of the game.

"It's not so much the stiffness, I've actually had really good range of motion and mobility," Tavares said. "It's just about gaining its strength back, mostly. I have it protected pretty well so shooting feels pretty good. All of the competitiveness and getting in tight, creating space and pushing off guys, being along the boards, things like that are the final hurdles I'll have to feel comfortable with."

Tavares said he has worked with the Maple Leafs equipment staff to make some minor alterations to his glove to protect the finger.

"We've done some things just to minimize it getting hit again," Tavares said. "We've added some extra protection and stitching my fingers a certain way. The equipment guys have been great helping me make those adjustments." 

When Tavares does return, Babcock said his inclusion in the lineup will help the Maple Leafs, who are 1-2-2 in their past five games, in a variety of ways.

"Skill, man in the middle on the power play to free up the other guys on the sides who now are covered," Babcock said. "Face-offs, team defense and a conscience. What I mean by that is he does it right. He's been through all these things the other guys have been through and has figured out he wants to do it right because he wants to win."

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