Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Tuesday, touching on the backup goaltender situation, the play of Jake Gardiner, and the team’s visit to Sick Kids Hospital.
Nazem was missing from practice today.
Mike Babcock: He’s sick.
With Antoine Bibeau obviously here just as backup, you’ll ride Freddie, I assume, pretty hard in the next little bit.
Babcock: That’s our plan.
What’s the plan with Ramo?
Babcock: Right now he’s signed… I don’t know what exactly he’s signed to. Is it an American league deal, or a tryout? So he’s with the Marlies at this point.
How comfortable are you with Freddie? He had the 53 starts with the playoffs last year, but that was the only time he’s had a huge workload.
Babcock: I think we’ve given him a pretty good workload so far. What are we, 25 games in? So he’s played 21 of them. We’d like a backup to play 20 games if we could.
I know you understand the privilege of your position all the time, but when you go to Sick Kids on a day like yesterday, does that sink in for you?
Babcock: I mean, obviously it’s special. I have a kid from Sick Kids every night at the game with a parent. It’s always a thrill to meet them there. And then when you go back, and you see them there, it’s special. No kid, or no family, wants to be in sick kids. The people and the staff do a fantastic job, and obviously, the medical profession and the advances in science are spectacular. If anyone in your family gets sick, your family gets sick, and it’s hard. I can’t even imagine – my kids are 23, 21 and 19 – and I can’t imagine one of them having any issues whatsoever. To be there with your child is probably not a fun thing, and yet we have an opportunity to give back in the community and obviously brighten a day. It was very obvious yesterday that took place. The other part of it is the message for you yourself as a player, as someone who’s been blessed, to enjoy what you’re doing and do it well and be very thankful.
What have you seen from Nylander over the Western road trip as he started on the fourth line and bounced up when you needed offence?
Babcock: I don’t know if that’s really what happened. We just make sure we get him out there enough. He’s played good for us. We like our players. We’ve been playing him and getting him on the ice a fair bit. Willy is a guy who can generate offence for us. We’d like him to generate more at five on five. We think he can. We’re just trying to help him, just like all the other young guys, to get better.
Do you feel like Jake has kind of found a comfort zone with what you expect of him since getting him last year?
Babcock: I just think he’s a way better player than he was a year ago. I don’t know if that is confidence, or just getting older, or just being solid without the puck, but Jake is a real important player for us. He generates offence and doesn’t spend a whole lot of time in his own zone. He can play against good players and he’s getting better defensively every day. We think he’s an important part of our team.
Was there one thing you had to press with him early on?
Babcock: I don’t know if there was one in particular, but a big part of defence is not playing in your own zone – so your ability to go back and get pucks and get moving, and play without it quickly so you can play in the offensive zone. That’s been a focus point for him. He’s a lot stronger, quicker, and he understands more. He’s a good player.
Is the group a little more confident here [at home], do you think?
Babcock: I actually think we’re pretty confident everywhere. We’ve obviously got a better record here. Now, we’ve got to re-establish that. It’s a big game tomorrow against a good Wild team. We want to re-establish ourselves at home. Obviously, our home record is way better than our road record, so we need to have a real good game tomorrow. We need to have a real good game here tomorrow. It’s the end of our segment and we need to win this to win the segment, so it’s a big game for us.
When you come off a road trip, the guys have talked about getting their sleep patterns back. What’s changed for you starting your coaching career versus now, in terms of recovering from a trip?
Babcock: I don’t know if there’s a whole bunch more. Anytime you have as much time as we did, there is no issue. I think, when you come back with a time change and play two nights later, it’s harder for you for sure. Even harder than the first night back. But we’re lucky in this situation. We stayed an extra day anyway. We’re in a good situation that way. It shouldn’t be an issue. Not many of our guys have kids at home. They didn’t have to get up early. They didn’t have to do anything. Pretty straightforward.