Coach and player interviews following Wednesday’s practice.
Babcock: Freddie is obviously feeling better. We’ll talk to the goalie coach on the plane and decide what we’re doing tomorrow.
A sigh of relief, Mike, or how do you see it?
Babcock: I guess, if you thought he was hurt bad at the start, you’d say yes. But we didn’t think he was. We just knew you can’t play a guy when he’s not ready. We had to wait for him to be ready and he’s ready now. He practiced the whole time. We didn’t think it was a big deal, but obviously when he’s not playing it’s a big deal. Big Mac did a good job for us last night.
Your perspective on Auston Matthews last night and breaking Wendel’s record?
Babcock: Our team won, so that’s a real good thing. Matty is an important part of our team. I thought he played well. I think, when you play well as a team, you play well individually. You get a lot of accolades when you’re a good player like Matty does, but I think he’s focused like the rest of us on getting in. Wendel is a guy who I’ve known since he was a kid. A great ambassador for the Leafs. It’s great for Matty to be mentioned in the same kind of sentence with him, and also a sign of things to come. He’s a determined kid with a good skill set.
You put three rookies together in Matthews, Hyman and either Nylander or Brown. They’ve played together all year. Knowing what they’ve done as three rookies, does that impress you?
Babcock: Lots of things impress me. They work hard. They compete hard and they’re good players. Willy right now is playing with those guys and he’s got an elite shot, an elite skater, and he’s really competing at a whole other level than he was in the past. Hyman and Brown work every single day, and Matty’s got that skill set that we talked about. They’re good players. They’ve been important. We can talk about Marner in a second but he’s helped drive a line as well. We’ve had lots of guys be important that are young guys, but… you know, everyone is pumped about the young guys, but in the end, you’ve got to be good guys. Not just good young guys, you’ve got to be good guys. That’s how you win.
When you were white-boarding lines in the summer, did you have Matthews anywhere with any other wingers at any point?
Babcock: I just had him and Hyman together just because I felt he needed someone to get him the puck. You didn’t know, and you don’t know if the guy is going to have to move to the wing for a little bit. How do you know these things? You just start and you move ahead.
How important has Roman Polak been to you?
Babcock: Huge. Just a big man who does things right every day. Really competes hard, a physical presence for us. Polie brings it every single day and I think makes our D way better. Him and [Hunwick] are elite penalty killers. That’s an important part of the game.
Marner says he has been working on developing that shoot-first mentality all season. Have you seen a lot of progress from him to this point?
Babcock: I thought we were. Mitch got sick here a bit ago. I don’t think he’s had the same kind of pop, but he seems to be turning the corner health-wise. We need him, obviously, to drive a group for us. Like all young guys who are a work in progress, it’s going to take time. Things don’t happen overnight. The problem with the league is, if you don’t establish a shot, they don’t honour you and they take away the pass. Over time, he’s working on that. He’s working hard in the shooting room with other guys each and every day. That’ll make a difference for him over time.
You’ve had some good success with the Red Wings. Can you appreciate their playoff streak now that it’s coming to an end?
Babcock: Yeah, I don’t imagine it’s a great day for Ken Holland today. When you’re there, you know it’s coming. It’s just the way the league is. The salary cap, the way it is, you know it’s coming. That doesn’t mean you want it to come. You’ve managed all those great teams for so long. I think, when I got there, we won 50 games four straight years. I mean, this is a real league. To think about how good the team was, but those teams change. You see it all over the league. You get a window of opportunity, and our window of opportunity is coming right away here. We’re going to have to make good on it. They made good on theirs just like Chicago has, just like LA has, just like Pittsburgh. There are lots of teams that never make good on their opportunity.
Last year, no Canadian teams made the playoffs. This year, a handful are knocking on the door. Do you have a perspective as to how this is good for our game?
Babcock: Well, we’re in Canada, so we think it’s really good. I just know, if you ask the players, for the revenue of the league it’s important that way, as well. I just think, for overall coverage, it’s great for the game. I think you want to have as many teams in Canada as possible. We’ve only got the six anyway. In saying that, when you’re playing in the U.S. or Detroit or Anaheim, you don’t much care who else is in it. You’re just focused on yourself and doing well. But I think, for the overall look of the league, I think it’s important. I see Edmonton clinched a spot there last night, and that’s great for their franchise and great for hockey and a guy like McDavid, too. That’s important and good for them.
What a track meet last night’s game looked like. What did the addition of Kasperi to your line do to your line in terms of raising the tempo of what you’re able to do?
Martin: I think, in a track meet, I like our chances with Kappy on there. He’s obviously very fast and hungry for the puck. I found him very easy to play with. He keeps it simple and works hard and has some skill as well. He’s a good young player and he’s only going to get better.
Do you see where progress has been made in his time spent with the Marlies, especially in the defensive end of the ice and the responsibility that goes with it?
Martin: To be honest with you, I haven’t seen a lot of him. He’s a young kid. I’ve heard a lot of things, starting with when he was in Pittsburgh. His speed is obviously a huge factor. You can tell he works hard on his game. In practice, he was one of the hardest working guys on the ice. His attention to the details and what is going to make him an everyday NHL player seems to be there. I’m just happy for him. We were able to have a good first game. Hopefully, we can continue to have some success.
You’re the lone holdout on the line this entire season, but how has it been — talent-wise, transitionally — in terms of adjusting to each other, whether it be at center or the right wing, and who you’ve been able to play with over the season? It seems it always changes.
Martin: Yeah, it’s been a little bit of a culture shock, if that’s the right word. I played with the same guys for almost three years in New York. A lot of different bodies this year, and that happens. Trying to find the right formula, I guess. Injuries happen, and guys have stepped in and done a good job. I think [Boyle] being down the middle has really helped us form an identity as a line. It’s been a bit of a revolving door the last week or so with the right wingers, with guys getting hurt with injuries. A little bit unfortunate, but everyone who has come into to play has done a good job. [Fehr] was awesome in Columbus until he got hurt. Leivo scored a big goal, and unfortunately, he gets hurt. And then it was Kappy last night. Hopefully, we can get some better luck with the injuries, but everyone is stepping in and doing a great job.
The tempo seems to be established with your line, right from the first shift. Obviously, that was the mindset.
Martin: We weren’t very good in Buffalo. I think that’s hard for us because we are relied upon to be an energy line and we just didn’t have any energy. I know that didn’t sit well with me. I really put a lot of focus on having a good start. With Kappy’s speed, we were able to generate some offensive chances and really not give up anything the other way. I was happy with the way that — not only as a line, but as a team — we responded after a pretty disappointing game in Buffalo. Hopefully we can build off of yesterday’s win and get a big win tomorrow.
Your outlook moving forward?
Andersen: I look pretty ready to go. I felt good today.
Any chance for tomorrow night then?
Andersen: We’ll see on the plane, but it’s looking positive. I feel ready to go.
Did you feel much better you have? With each day, do you feel you’ve gotten a lot better?
Andersen: Yeah. We worked hard on the ice and made sure that I’m up to speed again.
Seven shooters and just you out there. You got worked pretty hard, didn’t you?
Andersen: It’s always good when you get a lot of shooters and you do some drills that are for the goalies. They obviously want to get some work in, too, so it’s good.
You were asked yesterday, “how do you know when you’re ready?” and you said, “it’s tough to say but you just know.” Did you feel that today, or is that something you felt yesterday?
Andersen: It’s a process, but I think you just keep working hard, and once you feel ready, you can push through the last part.
For a guy who stops pucks, what is your impression of what Matthews has been able to do?
Andersen: It’s impressive. He’s got that good release. He goes to the net with a purpose. I think that is what separates him from a lot of goal scorers. It’s very impressive what he’s done.
When you got hit there in the mask, was that a scary moment or more a hazard to your mask?
Andersen: It happens. You’ve got an extra mask for that stuff. We changed up the cage and should be good to go.
How did you think McElhinney did in a big start for him?
Andersen: He did really well, especially in the second and third, when they started pushing a little bit back. I think he played well in the first and obviously he kept the lead there in second and third. Really good game from him.
The fact that you skated the last few days here, going through a regular game day almost yesterday, does it make you feel sharp? Not rusty, or anything?
Andersen: I haven’t really been off the ice too much. I think that’s a good sign. The more you can keep your regular schedule and work regimen, I think you want to do that as much as possible. You feel better.