Mike Babcock met with the media after practice in Sunrise, Florida on Monday, discussing Connor Carrick’s status, the edge to Nikita Zaitsev’s game, Auston Matthews’ mini-slump, Brian Boyle’s contributions, and more.


Happy to see Connor Carrick back in practice?

Mike Babcock: Yeah, I mean, obviously it’s real good. He’s a ways away. He wasn’t really involved in any contact here today, but he’s a good player. He really gets the puck going for us. He’s got a good shot from the blue line. He’s an important guy on our team.

Zaitsev’s blocked shots, body checks – was that physicality evident in Russia as we’ve seen from here from him, knowing what the scouts had seen?

Babcock: To be honest with you, I only saw him at the Worlds, and then I watched him on tape. You don’t see as much of the cross-checking and the viciousness that he has, that he plays with. Obviously, it’s a real help to him and a help to our team. He’s a real good player. He’s more than you could’ve hoped for, and he’s a great, great man who is a real good competitor and a good teammate. So, you add it all together… Jimmy Paliafito did a real good job in getting him here.

Is it important, having a young team and a stretch this like – when you’ve got 15 games left, it’s going to be exciting – that they just got out and play and maybe not overthink things so to speak?

Babcock: I think we’ve done a pretty good job. When I go through it over a long period of time, we’ve gotten points in a tonne of games. For a while there, we couldn’t get a second point. Now, we’ve played three teams in a row where we got our second point. Every one of those games has been tight, too. They’re going to continue to be tight. We play in a big game tomorrow, but to me that’s what the fun is about. If you’re not enjoying this, what are you doing? You should be having a riot. On this trip, we have a chance to get rest. We have a chance to play good teams. It’s exciting. I think it’s a way different feeling on this team than it would be if I was on Detroit in the same situation because we just knew we were getting into the playoffs. We were just finishing the year. Here, you’re in a dog fight and it’s a lot of fun.

Auston Matthews… I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’re not necessarily worried that he hasn’t scored in a few games.

Babcock: I just checked. I was watching the NHL On the Fly. They don’t talk about the Leafs. It’s good. I noticed Ovie didn’t have one in ten. I don’t think they’re that worried about Ovie. I’m not going to spend too much time [worrying]. Now, Auston wants to score every game. He plays hard and is competitive. I thought his line did a good job the other night. There was no room at all in Carolina. If you’re a fan at home – or probably the broadcast, I didn’t listen to anybody – you think it’s an ugly game. I think it’s a thing of beauty, actually, when there is no room out there. So it was a good game.

A little health management for Tyler today, Mike?

Babcock: Yep. Obviously, Bozie hasn’t skated in a bit. Our people are all over that. He worked out and he did all that and he’s ready to go. We’re just going to manage that as best we can. He’s playing good.

With Zach and Auston, when Brown is their right winger, does it change much of what they do?

Babcock: Yeah, I don’t know. What I like about Brownie and Hyman and Auston together is they can play against anybody. Doesn’t matter who they match up against, they’re going to spend a tonne of time in the o-zone. Willy and Auston play more on the rush when they’re together. Those guys play more on the cycle. The other thing I like about Willy with Naz’s group – you know Leo is going to be at the net and Willy is going to shoot it, so there is someone there that way, too. Depending on the night… how did we practice them today? Who was with who? Brown was with Matthews? That’s how we’ll warm up tomorrow night and we’ll see what the matchups are and what’s best for the team.

Brian Boyle was telling me that he wants to score more.

Babcock: I’d like him to score more, too, but his line has been outstanding. His line, in all the clips, is stopping on defence, doing the right thing. We can roll four out the gate. We put them out on d-zone faceoffs. We don’t worry about them. I think he’s bringing a tonne to the team. If he wants to score more, that’s great. Score more. But he’s doing a good job for us.