Mike Babcock on team’s recent defensive play: “We get dancing around and life is great, we think we’re the ‘80s Oilers, and then it’s bang-bang-bang”

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Photo: Liam Richards/The Canadian Press via AP, File

Mike Babcock met with the media prior to the game against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night, discussing the team’s poor defensive play in the last four games, the firing of Claude Julien in Boston, Nikita Soshnikov’s recent play, and more.


Any changes tonight?

Mike Babcock: No. If there are, they’ll be game time. I don’t know of them now.

You saw these guys a week ago, Mike. That game inspiration enough for what you have to get done against them tonight?

Babcock: Yeah, it was pretty ugly for us. They slapped us around pretty good. I thought it was river hockey. We weren’t very good, period.

Some of the goals last night were the result of the loss of puck battles. How do you teach ‘compete’ in that kind of a situation?

Babcock: Obviously, I watched the game a couple of times. I don’t know if I see it like you do. We were terrible in our own zone and at our net and through the neutral zone without the puck. Any time we feel space offensively – like against Dallas and last night against the Islanders – and everyone gets feeling good and we get dancing around and life is great, we think we’re the ‘80s Oilers and then bang-bang-bang. We just yell at the goalie, “here they come again, here they come again.” It’s fun. I actually think the players are having fun. I think the crowd is having fun. And we leave pissed off every night. So why don’t we just play right?

No morning skate, obviously, with the back-to-back. Where are you getting with that, as you go down the stretch after sort of a murderous road trip?

Babcock: I don’t know about that. See, if my group was 40, I wouldn’t bring them in in the morning. The thing with our team – even here, we always eat together knowing they don’t have a wife at home and don’t have a mom at home. They come here and make a nice meal and go home. We’ve got to come here anyway. We’re going to have a meeting anyway. We like to get our mind right. What part is right and what part is getting your mind right? I said this before. If they were playing junior hockey or minor hockey, they’d play three games in one day or they’d play 40 minutes and they’d never, ever know they’re tired. We tell them they’re tired, so they think they’re tired. They ain’t tired. Let’s go.

Any comment on Claude Julien’s situation today?

Babcock: Good, good, good man. Even better coach. Someone out there is happy today. I mean, you ain’t getting better. When you make these decisions, you better have a guy in line that is better than that guy. There aren’t many, I can tell you that. And a good man. But, enjoy some time with your bride and kids, get freshened up, call the U-Haul business, and get her ready to go. Sometimes, to be honest with you, it’s time to move on. Julie boy is a hell of a coach.

Mike, you’ve had mostly Auston with Zach all year. Do you view your lines as pairings with the third guy moving in and out? What’s the advantage of that?

Babcock: That’s a real good question. I like to have pairings. I like to move them around more than I have. I haven’t found a whole lot of other things that have worked great. We think we can generate offense with anybody. We think we can play fast and put you on your heels. This last little while, we were playing right for a long time there. It looked like a good hockey club. Now we look like a team that wants to get points. We’ve got to fix that, otherwise we’re going to be disappointed. Now, when you wake up today… I looked at the standings, we’ve got games in hand, we’re in a good spot, we’re in the playoffs, life is good. But I know what we are and we’ve got to be better than we are.

What’s the fine line between letting your talent go and teaching them how to play without the puck?

Babcock: I think it comes right down to a simple decision: Do you want to win or not? I don’t like to feed my family on hope. I like to find my family on “know.” I like to know what we’re doing. We can come down and it’s like going to Vegas; you can gamble, or you can play right. You’re still going to score just as much. Some people don’t believe that. I believe if you play right defensively, you score more.

Wasn’t one of Lou’s Stanley Cup teams first in goals and everyone was complaining about the trap?

Babcock: I just know, when you play right, you come to the rink each day and know you’re getting points. It’s a great feeling.

Nikita Soshnikov was kind of snake bitten for a lot of the first part of the year, but lately he is producing and seems to be getting lots of chances. Has he put himself in a position where you feel comfortable moving him up into a situation to complement a pairing?

Babcock: Obviously, he can play real well with Leo and Naz and play as good when he does. But we have other guys in those spots. Right now he’s a fourth-line guy. I just went through it with him – I think he’s playing 11 or 12 minutes a night. He penalty kills for us. He plays a regular shift on our fourth line. But you’re an energy guy who has to get the puck out and get the puck in. Their line has been on a dash side of it for a little while lately, so that’s kind of what matters to me. Not whether Sosh is scoring goals or not.

Does your lineup going unchanged include [Frederik Andersen]?

Babcock: No, sorry, he’s not playing tonight. He gets a couple days rest.