Mike Babcock met with the media after practice on Friday, discussing:
- The dominance of the Matthews-Nylander line offensively and defensively
- How Auston Matthews is dealing with the hype about him across the hockey world
- The Leafs as the oddsmakers’ Cup favourites after seven games
- The challenge against Ottawa on Saturday night
On the “Matthews-Nylander” line:
Babcock: I think Marleau is heavy on the forecheck. I think Leo is in there, too. They compete with and without the puck. That’s not what you wanted? What line were you talking about?
The Matthews-Nylander? So, there’s three guys on the line. Hyman does the work. They all work, don’t get me wrong. Hyman gets them the puck back and drives the middle and is at the net. He doesn’t have the puck much except to get it back, so they have the puck more. They come through the neutral zone with speed. Matty plays real well without it. Willy does, too. They both can take faceoffs. They both can shoot the puck, and they’re creative. The three of them are outstanding.
Is there anything they’re doing differently from last year?
Babcock: I mean, they were all rookies last year. They’ve been in the league and they know it a little bit. They all worked all summer at getting stronger and quicker and better. The difference between Matthews’ speed through the neutral zone this year and last year is like lightyears different from the start to the end. You learn about the league and you learn what it takes. If you’re a good pro, you go home in the summer and you pick certain things to work on, and you keep getting better. Those guys are that. They’ve done a good job.
Now, seven games don’t make a season. It doesn’t even make two segments. We’ve won two games in this segment and we’re going to try to get better. They have to the same.
How do you feel Auston has handled the hype? As you know, every market we go into has similar questions about how excellent he’s been. Barry Trotz compared him to Mario Lemieux last week. Brad Marchand sent out a tweet saying, “How long until the Leafs play 1 on 5 with just Auston?” poking fun at all the hype. How do you feel he’s handled it?
Babcock: I think he just comes to work each and every day. I think all of those things are great, but I don’t think it’s affecting his life. That’s just noise. The more you win, the more the noise is positive. The more you lose, the more the noise is negative. But you probably shouldn’t listen when it’s negative, and you probably shouldn’t listen when it’s positive.
The Vegas oddsmakers have you guys as the Stanley Cup favourites now.
Babcock: Yeah, so what we’re going to try to do is win this segment. Right now, we’ve won two of the five and that’s what we’ll try to focus on. All of that stuff is fluff. I’ve coached lots of good teams. One that won the President’s Trophy, one that tied for the President’s Trophy, and they didn’t win the Cup. It’s hard to win the Cup. It’s darn near impossible, so let’s not worry about that. Let’s try to get in the playoffs. Let’s do that by winning the game in Ottawa. Ottawa has given us a tough time. They’ve been real stingy against us and we haven’t played as good. They do a good job against us. We’re going to have to get ready and play them well.
Is parity paramount this early in the season, Mike, when you look at the schedule and the opponent night after night?
Babcock: I think everyone is really good. What is interesting is always want to get off to a good start, and sometimes when you don’t and you’re a good team, it gives you a wake-up call and you dig in more. Sometimes, in life, when things go too good, you get a little complacent. That’s my job, to make sure that doesn’t happen and do everything I can about that. Our players have got to understand that if you get ahead of yourselves, you don’t win. We’ve just got to be diligent and be solution-based and get better every day. Then you have a chance to be successful. I know you don’t want to hear any of that. You want something way more flamboyant than that. I don’t got it.
How do you guys get around an Ottawa penalty kill that has allowed one goal against?
Babcock: I don’t think you worry about that. We saw the game last night and prescouted the game before. We know how they penalty kill. We know what we have to do. To me, it’s partly about the other team but it’s mostly about yourself and what you do. They’ve got goaltending, good D, good forwards. They’re a good team. They’re going to be hard. In saying all of that, our focus is to build the momentum when we have the power play and that’s what we’ll try to do.
Will Borgman stay on that pairing tomorrow night?
Babcock: I told Rosen I’m going Borgman back-to-back in this situation.
Andersen says he feels a lot more comfortable this year than he was at this time last year. How have you seen that translate into how he plays on the ice?
Babcock: Obviously, Andie would tell you it’s a work in progress every year. You want to get better and better and better. We thought he was better last game. You’ve just got to keep plugging away. The team is having success, but I think he wants to keep improving just like the rest of us, each and every day. I think being comfortable, to a certain extent, is really good, and yet, I think the league is such that it makes you uncomfortable lots anyway just with the opponents and the people they’re putting at the net, the traffic you have — all of those things. You’ve just got to get used to it and feel good about your game and how you’re doing.
Auston was saying he gets a lot of requests for sticks from stick collectors around the league, and he mentioned some as well. He mentioned the Jagr stick. Do you have a favourite item that you’ve been able to get from an opposing player or coach, or some memento you’ve got?
Babcock: Shanny sent me his 600-goal stick one time. I think I’ve got Scott Stevens’ 1,416th game when he broke the record. I have a tonne of them. I’ve been fortunate to coach an Olympic team, so I railroad the guys into that. They’re not the actual stick, but Niedermayer made the play and Iginla made the play and Crosby scored the goal, and Luongo was in the net at the 2010 Olympics. I’ve got lots. I’ve got all of that kind of stuff. I shouldn’t say that because someone will break into my house and get all of that stuff.
Looking at Borgman and Rosen, how much is it about how they’re playing, and how much of it is about how they sort of complement Carrick at this point?
Babcock: It’s about them and also a little bit about the opponent.