Mike Babcock addressed the media on Sunday, reflecting on Game 2 and looking ahead to Game 3 in Toronto.
How does your blue line’s personality dynamic change without Roman in it moving forward?
Babcock: I don’t know 100% for sure. We’ll know more here after [the guys] check in. We’ll know more after Zaits goes on the ice. Obviously, Marchy or Zaits would play. Whichever one is in, that’s why you have eight. That’s why you acquired depth during the year. They all played a lot this year, so I’m not really concerned that way. It’s a real unfortunate situation for Roman. He’s a good, good man. He’s a great teammate, plays hard, competes hard. Unfortunate incident, and real unfortunate for him.
Among the snapshots in overtime was Mitch Marner chasing down Ovechkin on that play. What does that say about his perseverance and the no-quit attitude of these young guys? It would’ve been easy to just let him go.
Babcock: I don’t think it’s easy to let it go. I would ask you, “how would Ovie get behind us in overtime?” That would be a question I’d have, especially when we knew he was coming out of the box there. Also, obviously, Mitch is a real good skater. We actually need Mitch to continue to skate and push like he can. He’s a kid who can really fly. We need him on the puck and skating all the time. We talk about that a lot with Mitch. The more he forechecks and the more he tracks, the more he has the puck. He wants to have the puck. I thought it was good. Andie still had to make a save, but he forced Ovie so he couldn’t go either way, which was positive. He put him under some duress from behind.
Assuming you’ve had another chance to look at the game tape, did anything stand out to you on the second time through?
Babcock: Yep. So, what we’ll do is… obviously, we had a theme after game one and a couple of things we wanted to fix. We’ve viewed the game now and we’re viewing it again as a staff right now, and then we’ll have a presentation for our players later tonight.
It seems every year in the playoffs it’s the role guys and depth guys that rise to the challenge, with first lines knocking each other out. Are you comfortable with your depth players and your role players as you go forward?
Babcock: They’ve been real good, obviously. On the first night, their line with Beagle and Winnik and Wilson got the big goal for them in overtime. Ours last night got two goals for us and have done a real nice job for us. Boyle has been real strong in the faceoff circle, and he’s obviously a presence. Kappy can fly. It’s great for Kappy to be rewarded a little bit. That should lead to confidence that he can become what he was in the American league in the National league over time. You earn the right to feel good about yourself and you do good things. It’s got to be a pretty good day for the kid today, I would think. Now he’s just got to get it back focused and get ready to play and do the little things right.
Matt Hunwick is a guy who seems to have not gotten the amount of credit he deserves this year at times.
Babcock: He gets lots from me, so…
Last night, with over 30 minutes, does it really show the versatility and importance that he has on this blue line?
Babcock: He’s obviously a real good player. I think a lot of our players may not get as much credit outside get lots internally. That’s where you want it. You want it from your teammates, your coaches, and your management. Hunny is a key guy for us. He wears an A for us and does things right every day on and off the ice. That’s why we brought him here. That’s what he has been able to provide. He’s a real stable guy. Pays a price, breaks the puck out, blocks shots, had an unbelievable block against Ovie in game 1, knows how to play. You know he’s going to bring it every day. He’s a dependable guy.
Is there kind of a cat and mouse as this series goes on between the two head coaches?
Babcock: I’m not coaching against Trotzy per se. I’m just coaching my team to be the best it can possibly be. Now, I’ve got a lot of respect for him. He’s a good coach who has done a real good job for a long time in our league and treats people and players right, which I think is important. He’s a great ambassador for the National Hockey League. In saying that, he wants to win and I want to win. He’s going to do what he has to do with his group and I’m going to do what I have to do with my group. In the end, we’re going to go on and have a relationship like we do already, but that doesn’t mean you both don’t want to win.
You and some of the players talked about wanting to put more shots on goal after that first game. Did you feel they did a better job of taking advantage of opportunities they had around the net?
Babcock: Yeah. In saying that, in going through the game, obviously, there are a lot of things you want to tweak and you want to be able to fix those things. You want to get the puck to the net all the time. You don’t want any turnovers. Anytime you play five periods, or as much as we did, there are going to be turnovers and there are going to be plays you’d like to have back. You’re just trying to limit your errors as best as you possibly can and make it as hard on the opposition as you possibly can.
In talking to a couple of other coaches today, they’ve pointed to how good your puck support has been through two games. When the Caps are on their game, they like to hem teams in and get their cycle going. How much do you preach that? It seems like you don’t want to leave your guy out on an island when he’s in that puck battle.
Babcock: Obviously, they’re a big, talented team and we’re better as five together than we are spread out all over the rink. The problem with that is you’ve got to skate, and skate, and skate and skate. We didn’t skate very good in the third and fourth period in Game 1 and it showed. We have to skate good, so now we’ve got to get recharged here. Obviously, we got in at 3:30 last night. She was a late night and lots of guys had ice time. That’s the thing. I’ve been in tonnes of series where we’ve played lots of overtime. The great thing about it is you’re playing at the greatest time of year. It’s fun anyway. You’d be amazed at how much energy you have. Let’s just keep on going.
What have you thought of Martin Marincin’s games, coming in cold as he has?
Babcock: I really like Marty. I think Marty is a real good player. I think sometimes he gets in his own way. Confidence gets in his way sometimes. He’s a talented, talented guy. He might be our best penalty killer on our team, but you’ve got to get in the lineup. When you don’t, it’s hard. But I thought all of those guys… I thought [Connor Carrick] and him settled in last night. When you’re going out there all the time, you’ve got no choice. You just settle in and get playing. I thought they did.
You’ve kind of given tough minutes to both Morgan and Jake this year. What do you like about both of them that you can really on them as much as you did, especially in these last two games?
Babcock: I think Riels has been as good as he’s been since I got here the last two games. Like I said earlier, Jake had an unbelievable game. The change in Jake in two years is just incredible, but it’s all confidence. He earned it. He trained in the summer. He worked at it. He’s gotten better and he feels good about himself. Some of the things he does sometimes you just shake your head a little bit. I say to DJ, “get those boys back in the barn.” They’re running all over the rink and you don’t know what they’re doing. But they have the puck. They’re playing with confidence. They’re competitive. They want to win. And they’re great people. They’re easy to coach. They’ve got a good attitude, they like to laugh, and they don’t mind a good tightening once in a while to get them back on track. They’re good guys and they’re good players.
For those two guys who played 40 minutes last night, is it a challenge at all? Are you worried about the energy level for next game?
Babcock: No, not much. I thought those two guys got better as the game went on, to tell you the truth. They’ll get their rest here today. We’ve got a good sports science program here. We’ll get them looked after the best we can. We’ll get ready to go again. The great thing about it is you’re playing a team that played too. Those guys skate easy. They glide. Some guys chug. They don’t.
Before you went into Washington, you talked about — if you were able to sneak out of there with a win, or maybe even two – the pucker factor. Now that you’ve snuck out with one and really gave them a run in Game 1, do you think that might be even more in your favour going home?
Babcock: I guess what I’m trying to say to you is life is way easier when you don’t feel any tightness and everything is going good and you tic-tac-toe. Sometimes, when you get ahead in games, you zip the puck around and it looks like the other team is standing still. If you can keep it tight against a high-octane team like that, the puck doesn’t move the same. The game is tighter for them. What I tried to say to you before is I’ve lived both situations. I’ve lived where you’re the underdog and you’re not supposed to win and I’ve lived where you’re the best team in hockey and you’re supposed to win. They’re totally different. People can tell you they’re not, but I’ve lived it. They’re different, believe me.