Mike Babcock on Auston Matthews’ dominant performance, Connor Brown’s big game & more

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Mike Babcock met with the media after Tuesday’s practice, discussing:

  • Auston Matthews’ huge performance against Chicago
  • The challenge ahead against New Jersey on Wednesday
  • The play of the Borgman-Rosen pairing
  • The ongoing battle for spots and current rotation

What did you like specifically about the way the Matthews line handled that challenge last night?

Babcock: Naz playing against Toews and him playing against Kane, I thought it was a good opportunity for both of them. I thought both lines ended up doing real well that way. We weren’t very good early, but we got better and better as the game went on. It was good. With the pace they were playing at and how technically sound they were, I thought we adjusted well and played pretty good. A good night for both of those groups.

Matthews’ possession numbers were incredible. What do you see that allows him to dictate the pace of play so well?

Babcock: What’s that mean?

It means that 87% of the time, basically, they spent in the offensive zone.

Babcock: I actually did know what that meant, but I asked. The beauty about it – that word analytics — is you think about how many more people are working in hockey. We don’t know if any of it is true, but we know they’re working in hockey. So good for them. What a thing. Anyway, what were you saying?

What allows them to push the play like that?

Babcock: They did a good job. They had the puck and they played well without it, so they got it back fast, and then they were heavy in the offensive zone. Whether it be Willy, Hyman or Matty, they all can get up the rink in a hurry, so it makes it hard on the opposition. They played with Gardiner and Zaitsev last night and those guys moved the puck real well and don’t spend a lot of time in their own zone. You put it all together, and that’s what you want as a hockey player. You don’t want to be standing around in your own zone. You want the puck on your tape and you want to be playing on offense. The better you play without it, the more time you get it.

What do you emphasize going into tomorrow night against a group that doesn’t have the same experience that Chicago does?

Babcock: Tomorrow can be a trap game because you think New Jersey hasn’t been as good, but I don’t know if you’ve been watching – they’re flying. Their forwards have great speed. They play a tight game. They’re doing a good job in the neutral zone and D zone. It’s one of those guys that you’ve got to be prepared for. They think they’re good. They’ve had a good exhibition. They’re going good. They’re no different than us. We think we’re good, too. The big part of it is when you win a game, enjoy that but get ready the next day and get your energy up and get ready for the next one.

With as many healthy bodies as you have, do you plan to keep rotating, kind of, with some guys in and out?

Babcock: What happened is we were planning on rotating Rosen and Borgman but then [Carrick] got hurt, so they’re going to go back in for next game. Right now, I’m still rotating Fehr and Moore. Leivo finds himself the odd man out just because he’s a winger. Right now, Martin plays every game and Brown is on the fourth line. We just don’t have room right now. The bottom line is some of those guys are waiting for an injury for an opportunity, and other guys, when they get a chance to play, have got to play well.

Why do you think you can play Connor Brown in so many different spots in the lineup?

Babcock: He’s just a good player. I’ve said it all along: He doesn’t think he’s a fourth-line player at all. He’s an elite penalty killer. He makes good plays, as you saw last night. I thought he had real good jump. He was one of our best players. He ended up playing more and being a real contributor last night. We expect that out of him every night. The other thing with having ten top-nine forwards is that you’re in a spot where if you’re not going, someone else is sliding right into your spot, which doesn’t hurt.

When you were in Detroit keeping an eye on Dylan Larkin at Michigan, how much at that time did Zach Hyman put himself on your radar?

Babcock: For sure. That’s when I saw him. I also knew that he was coming to be a free agent. You’re always thinking about him. He’s starting to come now like he was there. It takes you a while, unless you’re one of these elite skill guys, to make plays at the next level. He never scored his first couple of years of college but really did at the end. He still makes the good plays from down low and that’s what we want him to do.

What did you see out of the Borgman-Rosen pairing last night?

Babcock: They moved the puck. Borgman, obviously, has the ability to be real physical. Rosen playing on his offside makes it harder for him to slide laterally like he normally does, but I thought he made some real good plays. They didn’t get themselves in any trouble, so it was a good night for those guys.

Auston’s OT winner last night was a near perfect shot. What stands out to you about Auston’s shot? What makes it such a special weapon?

Babcock: What stands out is that Gardiner got on his horse and blew by two guys and created the opportunity for Auston. If he’s not there, obviously, the guy plays him differently. He put it in that ear hole. He didn’t put it glove side. He went tighter to his head, and obviously, there’s room there. A real good shot by him. He had had three 2-on-1s; prior to that one, the one they called offside. At three on three, we had some opportunities.