Mike Babcock discussed the absence of Nikita Zaitsev for Game 1 and the challenge ahead against Washington following Wednesday’s practice.
Babcock: Zaitsev is not available for game 1. Marincin will be in. I’ll work on the pairs by game-time tomorrow night.
Is Zaitsev dealing with a concussion?
Babcock: The great thing about the medical department is I don’t deal with that part. They just tell me he’s not ready to go.
What have you seen from Roman and his ability to handle pain over the time you’ve been here?
Babcock: Usually he’s giving out pain. He’s not usually receiving it. We don’t deal with it a bunch. Everybody is a little bit different. What affects them physically is different. Roman is one of those guys who isn’t affected by pain very much. He’s a good player. He’s a good man. His coaches and his teammates love him maybe more than the fans and the media do, but so what?
You said you’ve been working on the pairs. Did you like what you see from today’s combos?
Babcock: Yeah, they were fine. I haven’t decided what it’s going to be. We thought Zaits is going to play, and when we found out Zaits isn’t going to play we had to move it around here. We went one way yesterday and another way here today. We’ve got a pre-game skate tomorrow. We’ll get it figure it out.
How does Marincin guard against the rust, if you will?
Babcock: He’s just got to decide whether he wants to play the second game. Just play good.
When Roman has played with Jake, how have they complemented each other?
Babcock: I mean, fine. Jake is a guy who is a puck mover. Roman is a defender and knows where to stand and he’s a big body. We have to be concerned about matchups, too. It’s not like you’re just playing in the regular season. You’re going to play the same team over and over again. We’re putting it together and we’re putting it together matchup-wise as well.
Martin’s ability to kill penalties with his long, active stick – does that come in handy against this team?
Babcock: Obviously, it’s important for us. Marty is a real good player. Marty’s confidence gets in his way sometimes. To be honest with you, I thought he was going to be a regular for us every single day all year. He let it slip away and someone else got it, and that’s just the way it goes. There is nothing against turning it all around right here, right now and being important.
Ovechkin has the one-timer on the power play, obviously, but is the key to stopping that from happening is stopping the play before it gets to him?
Babcock: The biggest thing is, once they get in your zone and start wearing you out and then making plays, you’re in trouble. The ideal thing would be to win a faceoff and get it 200 feet and not let them get in the zone and get set up. The other thing you could do is just stay out of the penalty box, so that’s positive. No matter what anyone says, confidence on the power play comes and goes, especially in a playoff series. You need to get started on the penalty kill. You can’t be sleeping at the start. You’ve got to be dialled in and know what you’re doing. They’re going to make adjustments, and you have to make adjustments. If they get on a roll, and everyone is loose and driving and tic-tac-toe’ing on the power play, it’s hard to kill penalties.
Is Freddy playing like he’s good to go?
Babcock: He’s good to go.
Whether it was his first NHL game or the World Cup, Auston Matthews seems pretty unfazed by the big stage. On the eve of the playoffs, is that a pretty important mindset to have?
Babcock: I just think he’s an important player and he’s going to be good. He doesn’t like taking a backseat to anybody. I don’t know why he would now. He’s an important guy for us. Obviously, he’s going to be under scrutiny. All of the good players are. I think it’s a real compliment when the other team worries about you. Obviously, he’s earned that right. He’s going to get checked. Good for them, and good for him. Now you’ve got to find a way to fight through it. That’s just the way it is at playoff time.
How important is it to avoid chasing in your end?
Babcock: I don’t know what that means.
Scotty Bowman always used to say, “if you have chasers you’re not going to win anything.”
Babcock: Okay, well I’d have to ask Scotty here to figure out what he meant. This is what I’d like to do: I’d like to spend no time in our zone. I’d like to be on offense all the time. If you spend a lot of time where you’re standing there and they’re firing pucks and getting it back, you’re not going to win many games like that. Our whole focus all year – no different than it would be in this [series] – is to be on offense as fast as we can.
Will Zaitsev be back for Saturday?
Babcock: We’re always hopeful. I don’t know 100% for sure. I thought he was going to skate today. He didn’t skate today, so obviously he wasn’t ready to go. We have a skate tomorrow and then the following day, so we’ll figure out what goes on. We’re just going to say that everyone at playoff time is day-to-day.
Once in a playoff series, how much can you control, or is it more the work you put in before the series starts?
Babcock: I think you can make adjustments and all that, but I can promise you we’re going to be prepared. I know Trotz real good. I can promise you his team is going to be prepared, too. They have experience on their side. I think we have a real good team that knows how to play and I think we’re going to be a real hard out.
How valuable is a guy like Hunwick, who is a veteran and feels comfortable on both sides, as you go into the playoffs?
Babcock: I just think Hunny has played better and better as the year has gone on. He’s a real valuable player for us. He knows how to play. He’s quietly been a plus player – around seven or eight – and he gets about 20 points. He kills penalties for us. Knows how to play. He’s not a big body and sometimes that gets in the way for him, but he’s very intelligent, he’s real brave, and he breaks out pucks. Good player.
People make a big deal about experience, but there is something to be said about youthful enthusiasm and not knowing any different?
Babcock: When you’re young, you think experience is overrated. When you’re old, you think experience is everything. Lots of young teams have won. Let’s just find a way.
Brendan has said that you having kids around the same age has helped you a little bit. Can you elaborate on that?
Babcock: Just because you know what they do. You know everything about them because you know what they do. I said to my son a number of times this year, “what are they thinking?” He’d just tell me what they’re thinking. You know about the social media because of your kids. You know about things that they’re interested in because you see it every day. When you’re dealing with them, it’s the same thing. I think, number one, when you have a coach, they’re not looking for a friend. They’re looking for someone to make them better, and someone to love them, and make them accountable, and push them to be better. That’s what we’re trying to do here as best as we can. They’re going to need lots of support, and we’re going to provide that.
A lot of the kids are going to be seeing playoff hockey for the first time. In terms of advice, is there anything you’re offering to the younger guys in terms of how to adjust to playoff hockey?
Babcock: Obviously, we’ve talked about it quite a bit. We’ve got good veterans in our room that have talked about it. That’s part of the process for sure. Preparation is important, and yet it’s like anything. Once you see it, you know better.
What’s impressed you about the defensive group over that 14-5-1 stretch into the playoffs?
Babcock: I just think the team has played well. Anytime you go 14-5-1 in the NHL today, you’re on a pretty good stretch. We did a good job in that way. We still feel we can play way better. We’re playing a good team. We understand that. We’re respectful of them but we don’t want to stand around and watch them play, either. You can do that in warmup. You can get all the autographs you want from Backstrom, Ovie, all the guys. You can get their autograph and then play when it’s dropped.
We know how important that leftie-right balance is for you. Ideally, when you have the stacked deck of cards, what are you looking at with a guy like Hunwick when you’re forced to make that decision?
Babcock: Can you do it? Has he done it? Does he feel comfortable doing it? And do the matchups accordingly. It’s not as good. It’s just flat out not as good, but it is what it is. The other part of it is injury is all a part of sport. Good teams find a way to suck it up and get it done anyway. There is an opportunity for someone else. A guy like Marincin comes in… Marty can play the right side, too, and played his best hockey with Rielly last year on the right side. Maybe that’s something we do. Right now, until we get on the plane, what you saw today is the lineup.