Mike Babcock met with the media after practice on Friday, discussing the busy schedule to finish the season, the game against Buffalo tomorrow, the recent rise in shots against, Mitch Marner’s ability to drive a line, and more.
Does it feel good to get a practice in, Mike? It’s been a while.
Mike Babcock: Obviously, it’s good. You play so many games, you have to be careful with it. We play and then we get an off-day and then we get a real practice day so that will be positive. We’re still able to do quite a bit before in video to set us up just so we can think a little bit and get a little better.
What are the biggest things you’re working on when you get a full practice day?
Babcock: [It depends] on what we were no good at the night before. What we did is we went through that on video and we tried to focus on it so guys understood exactly what we were talking about. Lots of times it’s not understanding, it’s just doing it good enough, or getting by, instead of doing it right.
Do you anticipate a lot of days off, optional skates and practices given the intensity of your schedule coming up?
Babcock: I give lots of days off already. We’ll continue to do that. We’re going to continue to practice and continue to skate and see how it goes. It’ll just be a day-to-day thing. I keep hearing about the schedule, but I know if we practice today and play Buffalo tomorrow, that’s all that really matters. Just day-to-day and we’ll figure it out.
How much does Marner’s engine, his ability to keep going, fuel his success?
Babcock: It’s good. I didn’t think their line was as good as it has been last night. They’ve got a good thing going. Obviously, he’s a real driver. It was tight. There wasn’t a lot of room last night. He still got a breakaway and had some chances. He’s got the ability to take over the game for sure. He likes hockey. So, we’re fortunate. All of our young guys are really committed and like hockey. The more you love it, the more you like being on the ice, the better chance you have to get good.
The Sabres give up the most shots in the league and have a PK that is 30th overall in the league. How do you take advantage of those things tomorrow night?
Babcock: I’m not spending a whole lot of time thinking about it. Get our game and do what we do the best we possibly can. They also have a real good powerplay and they’ve got high-end skill. It can sting you. You’re going to have to play well and do what we do and be focused going in. It’s a big game for them and a big game for us.
For you guys, it’s three of four now that 40 shots have been allowed…
Babcock: I’d like someone to do this next game. This is what I want you to do: When the shot hits the net, I’d like you to mark it down. You tally it up yourself. Don’t go by that clock. Ours is a little bit fluffy. I don’t know if you know that, but it’s just one of those things. Obviously, you want to keep the shots down as much as you can. I also think scoring chances are important. When we do a good job like we have the last two games, and be on the inside and check real well, I think it really helps the goaltending. Some nights you give up not very many shots, but you give up backdoor opportunities and that’s hard on the goalie. The other thing is – shots from the outside, when you’re inside, aren’t as big of a deal.
So you’re saying, in-house, maybe the shots against aren’t as high?
Babcock: I slipped. That slipped. That slipped.
With every game being as important as it is – 12 of 29 left in the schedule are against divisional opponents. Obviously, that heightens the importance of what we see tomorrow night?
Babcock: For sure, and yet – I’ll say this again – I haven’t counted that up or thought about that. I just know every game is important. The one you’re playing, if you focus on it… they say it’s a four-pointer. I’ve been in the league a long time. They only go up two at a time. I know that. So we just keep trying to get our two each night.
Conventional wisdom in hockey is that a center drives a line. Just wondering, in Mitch’s case as a winger, what it is about him that…
Babcock: That’s a real good question. Kane in Chicago is the same way. They can drive a line without a dominant center. That’s probably because they carry the puck so much and they have the puck so much. There is not many guys that I’ve seen over the years that can drive a line as the winger. They usually need a good centerman with them. I’ve always been under the assumption that if you can get the center, get the center every time. But, in Mitch’s case, he’s one of those guys that has that rare ability. Especially as a young kid, he’s been able to do it already.
Is Soshnikov going to be ready tomorrow night?
Babcock: I don’t know the answer to that question. We’ll know more tomorrow. We’ll see how he did.
Is Alexey Marchenko getting close to being able to make his debut?
Babcock: I haven’t thought much about that. I just told Marchy to be patient and get used to what we’re doing and go from there. We acquired him because we think he can be a part of our team that helps. We’re not in a rush, though. He’ll get in when he gets in.
As I’m sure you know, Saturday is the You Can Play Project game. Have you had a chance to talk to your players?
Babcock: We haven’t talked about that yet. It’s important. It’s just me, but I just thought everyone was included and it didn’t really matter. But, obviously, I think it’s important. Let’s be honest, the world changes. Everybody is important. Everybody should have the right to live the way they want to live and do the things you want to do. This is how simple it is – if you’re good enough to play, you get to play. How’s that?