Mike Babcock on Mitch Marner practicing on the fourth line: “Let’s not read too much into it… He just happens to be the kid on the line”

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Mike Babcock, Toronto Maple Leafs

Mike Babcock met with the media after practice on Monday, discussing the line shuffle in practice, the challenge ahead against Washington, and more.


On moving Marner down to the fourth line and Brown next to JVR and Bozak in practice:

Babcock: Obviously, we’ve got to have all of our units going. We’re trying to do that. It was a big win for us in Montreal – haven’t won there in a long time. In saying that, we didn’t think we generated a lot. We didn’t think they generated a lot. We thought we could be way better as a team, so we’ve got to find a way to be better. As you know, Washington kicked us out of the playoffs last year and they’re a good team. They’re going to be tough for us, so we’ve got to be ready.

What’s the biggest challenge for a guy like Marner defensively as he moves forward in the NHL?

Babcock: Let’s not read too much into it. Their line wasn’t going. Tie goes to the veteran. How’s that? He just happens to be the kid on the line. That’s it.

Randy Carlyle had a really good record here, and they weren’t playing the way he wanted them to play. He said it’s really hard to convince players to play a certain way when the record is good. Are you in a situation similar to that now?

Babcock: I don’t see that at all. I think we’ve played hard with the exception of one game. Are there things we can do better and differently? Absolutely. We just try to be solution-based every day here. When we win, everything is not always great. When we lose, everything is not always bad. It’s more even-keeled and we just fix our game. We continue to do that.

We just finished a five-game segment. We like to get six points. We got two bonus points. Put them in the bank and let’s go get six more here coming up. Steady on the rudder and keep improving. Every team you play against exposes different things in your team that you need to work on. You try to be solution-based, point those out to the guys, and get out and work on them. That’s what we’re trying to do here.

What did you learn about Nazem Kadri in that six-game playoff series last year?

Babcock: Well, I thought Naz was like our team. I thought we started good and I thought they took over. That means we didn’t have enough to keep her going. Ideally, we’ve improved our depth and guys know what it takes more having been through it a little bit. They’ll figure it out they have to be better. We challenge Naz to be in better shape this summer and he’s done that. Those things are all a part of that in the playoffs.

Last year, as we needed to get in, we went 14-something to get in. We rested our team a lot. On good teams, you skate your team lots so you’re ready for the playoffs even more. It’s all depending on what program you’ve got going. I think we can be a way better team than we were last year, and yet… We’re five games in. It doesn’t mean anything, but we’ve done a good job in the first five.

Did you see Auston grow in that series or was he just himself at a key time?

Babcock: Obviously, I saw him grow every day last year. I think he’s doing the same. I think he had a good summer. We had a meeting here today with some things we need him to clean up, but that’s with every player. Our job is to try to make them better and their job is to focus on themselves and take some responsibility. Own everything they do. When things go bad for you, it’s no one’s fault but your own. If you own everything you do, you’re in control of it. As soon as you play the blame game, now you’re not in control of that anymore. As the person in charge of your life, you want to be in control.

How has Connor Brown impressed you in his first five games?

Babcock: Well, I mean, Connor Brown played in our top nine last year and is a top-nine forward in the league. He hasn’t been playing there but found a way through penalty kill and power play to play all over and be an important player for us. He’s just worked hard and finds a way to get on the scoresheet, finds a way to be an important player for you. If Matty hadn’t won the game, him and Naz were second out in OT the other night. They were second out the previous night in OT. He’s a good player, so we just play him.

With the back-to-back, what’s the plan in net?

Babcock: They’re both getting one.