Mike Babcock met with the media after practice on Wednesday, discussing the blowout loss to Florida, the challenge ahead against Tampa Bay, and rejigging the defence pairings.
Tomorrow is not an elimination game, but do you kind of look at it like that with the schedule winding down?
Mike Babcock: No. I think I look at it for what it is. It’s a big game. It’s an opportunity. When you look at yesterday, it was so disappointing. You’re glad it’s over with. Now you get a chance to bounce back. We didn’t play. We didn’t skate. We didn’t compete. We weren’t at a high level in an important game, so now we have a new opportunity to do that. We worked all year to be in these games, to have these kind of opportunities, to feel the way you’re feeling… the joy of when it goes good and the agony when it doesn’t go good. But I think it’s great for our team. Enjoy the process. Enjoy the grind, and fighting through your own thoughts to get back going positive again.
Brian Boyle talked about how it is a grind but it should be exciting, it should be fun. Does that fun and excitement, at times, almost mentally outweigh the grind?
Babcock: I think for sure. Every team in the league is going through something different right now. Some teams are eliminated. Some teams are in it. Some teams are so far ahead they’re just kind of resting. I’ve been through all of them, but it’s exciting because of our young group as well. Now we have an opportunity. Tampa has been playing well. They’re right there with us. I think it’s our game in hand, if I’m not mistaken, tomorrow. That’s a huge game for our team, so we’re excited. Now, we got out here and kind of cleaned the mechanism out. Get back at her, get your joy level up, and let’s get ready.
Do you stress the positives on the day after a bad loss like this or kind of half and half?
Babcock: No, I didn’t do that, but I didn’t dwell on last night. I hardly talked about last night. I Just got ready for tomorrow. I can’t do anything about yesterday. If I had it all back, what would I do differently? I’ve already been through that, but that does me no good here today. I’m a big believer that you live in the moment in everything you do in life. That’s no different here today.
Back in December, you said Tampa was going to be back in it, even when they were struggling. What have you noticed just from watching tape?
Babcock: Just from the prescout, I’ve noticed they’ve obviously got some injuries. But their backend, I think, is real solid. They’re getting great goaltending right now. The Point kid has gone from being someone you didn’t talk about to someone you talk about. Obviously, they have good players. Kucherov is playing as good as anybody in the league. Drouin, obviously, has taken a real step. Palat is there. Killorn. There is a number of players in their group and they’ve had a history of winning for a period of time. That culture that you established and the expectation doesn’t just go away over night. That’s what is great about this opportunity for us – you get to play them.
In the event that you tweak the top two pairings, what are you looking for?
Babcock: I’m looking for the puck not to go in the net. Sometimes you just fix something to fix it. Right now it’s not as smooth as it should be and it needs to be better, because we’ve got good players in those positions. I think we’ll decide tomorrow what we’re doing, but this was just a different way to look at it here today.
Nikita seems like takes tough games really hard. He was saying he’s always been that way.
Babcock: He said to [DJ Smith], “is that an NHL record?” He was joking around. “Is that an NHL record I set last night? Dash five?” You know, like, okay. Sometimes it goes bad, and sometimes you don’t have a lot to do with it. Sometimes you have something to do with it. Some of the clips that he was on the highlights for he probably would not want to be on. But that’s part of being a good player. We put him against the best players. We expect him to be a good player. He’s been beyond resilient and ultra-competitive, so I expect him to be back.
What makes Kucherov such a dangerous matchup?
Babcock: High, high skill level. Great speed. Handles the puck. Shoots it off the pass I think as good or better than anybody in hockey. Now, he really has some confidence, too. He’s a special, special player. He can play in those small spaces and create space. He’s a dangerous guy.