Mike Babcock addressed the media ahead of Tuesday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, touching on the play of Nazem Kadri, Morgan Rielly, Auston Matthews and William Nylander, Frederik Andersen, and Mitch Marner.

What sort of expectations do you have for Nazem Kadri this season?

Mike Babcock: I expect he’ll be really good. I expect him to be our matchup guy. Be dominant in the faceoff circle. Be a physical challenge for your opponent every single night. His line to spend a lot of time in the offensive zone.

You’ve had trouble closing out games. Do you expect it to be a little bit easier because you can line match at home versus on the road?

Babcock: I don’t think that had anything to do with us not closing out these last few games. I think each one of those games has been different. When you put them all together, it’s easy from afar to say they’re all the same. They haven’t even been close to the same. We’ve got to be better so we don’t have to answer the questions anymore. So that’s the key part. But, obviously, the better Naz plays, the better we are.

Right now the talk is about the young guys, but as the season goes on, isn’t it important that the veterans sort of lead the way? 

Babcock: I think they are leading the way. Maybe when you’re watching the game on the score sheet you don’t think they are, but the kind of players we have in our core leadership group aren’t necessarily guys that are going to lead in that way anyway. By doing good things every day, you’re helping those kids become good pros over time. I think their success is going to be measured more in winning and losing, and those kids you are looking at the stat sheet.

What’s the message to either fans or to your own players when a quality veteran like Milan Michalek is waived because younger players have basically outplayed him?

Babcock: I wasn’t trying to send any message to the fans or anybody. All we are trying to do is put ourselves in the best situation to have success. We felt we needed a faceoff guy on our penalty kill. We had Smith here before, trusted him, his contract was right for us. He’s a really good pro, does it right every day, good liver. We feel he can help our group. That’s why we made the decision.

Do you feel like Nikita Zaitsev is maybe ready to take on more of a challenge playing with Rielly?

Babcock: Well, we’d like Marincin to do that. Marincin got a bump, so we went away from him. The bottom line is last game some of our key D that we really count on it didn’t go as good for. We’re looking to make a change to help us on the backend. But Zaitsev’s been good for us.

This is an organization where goaltending has been an issue for a number of years.

Babcock: Well, it’s five games in, isn’t it?  If you look around the stats in the league… Let’s just take a deep breath here.

It’s been a pattern for this organization for quite a number of years.

Babcock: I wouldn’t know. I’ve only been here for one, so…

And the guys on Saturday night said the goaltending has been “lousy” this year and I’m just wondering…

Babcock: Who did?

The guys on Saturday night. Don Cherry. Grapes.

Babcock: Oh, okay. Now I know where I’m getting my facts from. Here we go. Come on. Let’s move on. What’s next here? Holy shit.

No, seriously. It’s been an issue for this market probably since Ed Belfour left.

Babcock: But I’m not dealing with that. This is what I’d tell you. We think we’ve got a really good goaltender. At the World Cup, I had three outstanding goaltenders. They all talked about how much time it usually takes you to get ready. Our guy didn’t have that opportunity because of his injury. We’re real comfortable with him. Do we think he’s played as well as he’s capable of playing? No. Do we think he’s going to? Yes. Do we think we’ve got to look after the empty-net goals that we give up? Yes. I’m really comfortable with our goaltending situation.

I’m just going to speak for the short time I’ve been here. I thought Reimer had a great year for us last year. We moved him on to help our franchise. I think Andersen is going to have a great year this year.

What are you seeing from Morgan Rielly over the past three games?

Babcock: What I do is just break it down into five-game segments and looked at our group as a whole. I thought Morgan has had some good games and I thought he could be better in some other games.

What have you seen from the Matthews group in terms of handling the defensive responsibilities?

Babcock: I thought some nights not as good. Other nights, pretty good. I think Matthews is pretty good defensively. The biggest problem is, when they turn the puck over, no one is good defensively. There is a fine line between having an elite skill set and taking care of the puck and turning over the puck. That’s something you’ve got to learn. But they’re smart guys. They want to score and they want to win. They’ll figure that out quickly.

What’s your early assessment of Mitch Marner?

Babcock: He’s outstanding. Has the puck all the time. He’s great defensively. He’s a great player.