Mike Babcock – Morning Skate – Leafs vs. Bruins

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Photo: USA Today Sports
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Mike Babcock confirms Connor Carrick will return to the lineup and speaks about the challenge ahead in a huge four-point game against the Bruins on Monday night.


William was talking again about how much he enjoys going up against Pastrnak. When you’ve got guys who are playing their buddies, does that factor in when you’re thinking about matchups and getting him out there against him?

Mike Babcock: Well, I actually considered buying one of those toys with the #88 and putting it in his stall everywhere so he could take him on the road and play against him every night. Obviously, they’re friends. They want to be good against each other. Willy has played great against him. We expect Willy to have a big night tonight.

The segment coming out of California is now 4-1-1 since then. What have you liked about the last six games?

Babcock: I think we’ve played better defensively. In saying all that, I didn’t mind us when we were in California. I thought we played well in two of the three games. For a long period of time, we’ve played pretty well. I’d like us to play as well as we are defensively and still understand that you can play offense at the same time and do it well. We want to have a fine balance of both. We think we can play heavier in the offensive zone. We think we can transition better. We would like to continue to play well without the puck.

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Did you like how Gardiner and Zaitsev handled Kane the other night?

Babcock: Yeah. A different kind of matchup. Not heavy guys, without Anisimov there. They didn’t have anybody at the net. When you have someone at the net, it takes one defender away. When you don’t have anybody at the net, it’s easy for the goaltender and you don’t ever take a defender. So they were easier for us to play against that way.

The team is 3-0 against Boston this season. What do you think has allowed you guys to have success there?

Babcock: Yeah, I wouldn’t read much into that. I think it’s just sometimes the schedule, just the way it goes. Every game has been tight that way. I don’t think there is much difference here. I think they’re playing well right now obviously. Marchand is on a roll to say the least. Pastrnak is on a roll. They’re 7-3 in their last 10 here and they’re playing well.

If you can take an aspect of Patrice Bergeron’s game and give it to your centermen, what would it be?

Babcock: Well, his head. His drive train. He’s smarter than anybody. He’s got an elite drive train. I just know that you think players are good and then you put them with the best players and some people aren’t as good and other people are better. Bergy is one of those guys. Even when the game is going faster — because he’s not an elite skater – his brain is that fast that he is that smart. He just knows how to play. He’s competitive. I coached him the first time when he was 18 at the ’04 Worlds. He was good from then right through. He just wins. He’s smart.

Speaking of the Olympics, hopefully hearing a decision at some point in the next month here. Just speaking for yourself individually, how important is it for the best players to stay in the Olympics and what value do you see in that?

Babcock: I think it’s really important. Getting your name on the Stanley Cup is something you dream about. Playing your country in the Olympics, playing best on best, there is no better event. There is none. To have that opportunity, I think, is important. I think it’s important to showcase your game every year; not just pick and choose when it’s your turn and you’d like to go. I think it’s important, but I don’t own any teams.

How much value do you place on how these guys are playing in what is, for a lot of them, the biggest games of their lives in this last stretch and coming up?

Babcock: I think it’s great. It’s really good when you play well and you take notice. I thought the best part of last game for us is, in total over time, the scoring chances were none. 6-5. They didn’t get any, we didn’t get any. To me, the good message was that Chicago is not just about a bunch of high-octane guys out there racing around. They play without the puck as good as anybody in hockey. That’s why they’ve got three Cups. I thought that was a great message for us. When we played Pittsburgh early in the year and they were Stanley Cup champions, we went through hell. They played without the puck, so it was a good message for us. Boston is playing good right now. Here is another opportunity. Obviously, it’s not hard to figure out in the standings that it’s an important game tonight. It’s only important because we put ourselves in a situation for it to be important. We earned that right, and now we’ve got to keep digging in.

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Alec Brownscombe is the founder of MapleLeafsHotStove.com, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He was also the editor of the 2009-13 Maple Leafs Annual magazines. You can contact him at [email protected]