Mike Babcock met with the media after Wednesday’s practice, discussing JVR’s status, Josh Leivo’s patience, Mitch Marner and Matt Martin’s relationship, and more.
On JVR’s status:
Babcock: JVR didn’t practice today. We expect him to play tomorrow. We won’t know 100% until tomorrow. We expect him to play.
Talking with some of your players about the versatility of this team and the ability to plug in players on any one of the fourth lines. They all seem to fit…
Babcock: Well, we try to have twosomes and then we’ll end up… it’s just early in the year. It’s not always going to go. We try to move people around on special teams just because of different guys on different lines. I think Marner played on three lines last game and will probably continue to do the same. I think that’s positive. In saying that, though, when you’re playing good, you like to keep them together.
How do you think the Matthews line has handled the increase in responsibility they’ve been getting?
Babcock: They weren’t as good last game as they have been, but they’ve been good. They get the hardest matchup each night because the other coach decides with their D. They don’t get the hardest forward matchup at home as they do on the road. As far as checking, we usually give that to Naz at home. In saying that, they’re all improved players for sure. They’ve got to continue to get better. We meet with them on a regular basis to try to help them with that process. They want to be good offensive players. In order to have the puck all the time, though, you’ve got to be real good without it, and they’re getting better at that.
Were you talking defense with them most of the time when you are meeting with them and showing them clips?
Babcock: No, it’s about offense, too. It’s about doing things right offensively so you have it all the time. We do both. We spend a lot of time here talking about offense, but we obviously focus on trying to play defense fast so we have it.
Marner and Martin have become close friends during their time together. How much do you think that helps Mitch, like in the early season when things aren’t going as well as they could have?
Babcock: I thought they were going pretty good. I said the other day, “Everybody on the team is pulling for everybody else.” You want the guys to do real well. No one wants to see anybody struggle at any time, and yet, I think everyone is here for one another to try to make you better. So there is an accountability part to that and there’s a support part to that. I think he’s got a good network here.
How have you seen Josh Leivo tackle the mental challenge here where he’s always kind of on standby but never knows when he’s going to play?
Babcock: I think Leivs has been great with that. We’ve talked about it lots. We’ve had players here in the past that were disgruntled and then when they went somewhere else, they found out they weren’t NHL players. Just keep getting better every day. You’re getting paid to get better. You’re getting paid to train. When you get your chance – he’s getting a chance for sure – be ready and make sure no one can take you out. The beauty of the system is, once you get in, if you play good enough, no one takes you out.
He’s gotten quicker, it seems. How important is the time spent with Rich Clune working on deadlifts — that lower body strength?
Babcock: I think it’s real important. It’s like anything. Some guys go home in the summer and they get better. Other guys train just before camp so they do alright on the fitness tests. You’ve got to decide what you want to be. It’s fair.