Mike Babcock met with the media after practice on Friday, discussing William Nylander’s shot, the decision to swap out Alexey Marchenko for Martin Marincin tomorrow vs. Carolina, Morgan Rielly’s performance against Philadelphia, and more.
In your experience, as the games tighten up, where does it tighten up the most? Is it along the walls, the shooting lanes? Is it everywhere at this time of year?
Mike Babcock: I just think it’s more in the neutral zone, to be honest with you. The greatest thing about playing pond hockey is that no one’s ever in your way and you have time to make plays. As it goes on, the game becomes a real grind. As the playoffs go on, it becomes like that. There is no space. You have to battle for every inch. That’s why often some players who have success in the regular season don’t have the same success in the playoffs just because it’s so hard. I think it’s a real good process for our guys to be going through. These are competitive games for us. I thought last night was a competitive game. I thought Philly played real well. So, in the end, to get the points was positive. Now we’ve got to go into Carolina with energy and carry on.
What stands out to you about Nylander’s shot?
Babcock: The way he can receive it across his body and let it go in one motion. He actually, I think, shoots across his body better than he shoots the one-timer. He likes to touch the one-timer. He can really shoot that puck. Willy’s got great edges and great understanding of the game, but the most impressive thing about what Willy is doing is he’s competing way harder. He’s better without the puck. He’s more competitive each and every night. So, he’s becoming a more complete player, which obviously makes us a better team.
Marchenko only played in one shift in the third period. Was there something that you saw in the first 40 minutes that…
Babcock: I didn’t know he only played one shift, to be honest with you, so I’m not certain on that and I’m not commenting on that. But we think Marchy has done a real good job. We’ve been thinking we should get [Martin Marincin] in for a while. We weren’t going to make the change… we probably would’ve made it before the Detroit game but he was from Detroit and we didn’t want to do that. We’re just going to make the change and see where it goes.
Do you have any more clarity on Connor Carrick and how long he might still be out?
Babcock: He skated again today and then he was in there shooting. I just talked to the strength people and they say he’s getting way better. Obviously, sooner is better than later for us. He’s a real important part of our team. I just know — we’ve been through this before — I don’t get much of a say in these matters.
Where do you see the biggest improvements in Brown and Hyman?
Babcock: I thought Brownie was good last night because he had his jump back. I haven’t had a chance to chat with him about that today but I thought it was very important that way. They both just bring so much energy and they work so hard that they get the puck all the time. The game is an honest, honest game. If you put in an honest effort, you end up having success. Those guys have become real important drivers for our team, on and off the ice. Their leadership — whether they want to believe it or not — is really important because it is contagious. People that work that hard just make the people around them better. That’s just the way it is.
Morgan has already talked about Brian and Eric and their impact on the room already. In your experience as a coach, does the public even get to see that off-ice impact?
Babcock: I don’t think so. I haven’t had Eric in a game yet, so I don’t know that part of it, but just on the bench in a game… Boyle is just a guy to keep you settled down. I thought their line re-established our game a number of times last night, both in the d-zone with good plays, in the o-zone with good forechecks and heavy shifts. To me, that’s what is important. In some ways, your top three lines probably aren’t playing as much as they were before because you’ve got four now. But I think that, when you’re playing every night, that’s important.
In Detroit, as the playoffs approach, did you have any team rules about guys limiting off-ice stuff? Autographs, personal appearances, things like that.
Babcock: Well, I mean, use your coconut, I guess. One of the things I learned most in Detroit is it’s important to have things to do besides hockey. Some people could think that’s a distraction. I don’t think those things are a distraction. I don’t think you get distracted when you love what you do and you do it. I think you’ve got other things going on in your life. Sometimes I worry about the guys that are young and don’t have a significant other or don’t have their folks around or don’t have… what do they do all the time? So I think it’s important to have things to do. I don’t know if I answered your question, but that’s what I think.
Freddie made some timely saves in that game, but is that part of the draw of why you guys went and got someone like him? Especially for these times.
Babcock: No, we just wanted to win some games and needed good goaltending, so we thought he was the best goalie available on the market with size. We thought he still had upside to him. To me, he’s a guy who fits into our age group. He’s a guy who we still think is getting better and is an important part of our team. All you have to do is look at the teams in the league. The teams without goaltending, they just don’t win, period. Pretty soon you’re blaming forwards and D for things that you wouldn’t even talk about if you had goaltending. Sometimes, when the goaltender plays real good, you don’t actually analyze your game the way you should. We try to do a good job of that. When you make the mistakes, let’s make it better. But I think he’s done a real good job for us.
What did you think of Morgan Rielly’s game last night?
Babcock: I really liked his game last night. I thought he skated real good. I thought he had good pop. I thought he made good offensive plays, and I thought he did a pretty good job defensively. Mo, for me, is our best D and our most important guy back there. We put him in tough matchups. Sometimes, when it doesn’t go the way you want it to, it gets snowballing on you, but you’ve just got to stick to it and know how good you are and keep playing hard and it turns your way. I’m not too worried about him.
With Carolina now, they’ve had their own struggles. Are they the type of team that is a more dangerous type of team at this time of year?
Babcock: Well, I think every team we play… when you look at the league, the separation between us and anybody in the league, there is hardly any. It’s not like it used to be. Ten years ago, we were just flat out better than the other teams. You’d smack ’em around. That doesn’t happen. Every night is a tight game. The talent difference in the league is hardly any. It makes everybody scary. You better be focused and ready to play.