Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Wednesday, discussing the team’s situation at the midway mark, Morgan Rielly’s first-half performance, and much more.
On what stood out about the loss versus the Lightning as the team hit the halfway point of the season:
Well, we lost. We made two mistakes on a line change and one behind our net. I thought they played well. I didn’t think they gave us that much. We had some good chances, but I didn’t think we had a ton of them. I didn’t think they had that much, either. I thought it was a pretty well-played game. In the end, you’ve got to find a way to win those games. You’ve got to find a way to block a shot, make one more good play, score on the power play, score on one of those rebounds… you’ve just got to find a way. That’s what the good teams do.
If you look at it, we played Vegas and they skated us, and we played this team. Those are the top two teams in the league. We’ve got our work to do. The other question you ask yourself: Were we as detailed as the other team? Did we work as hard as the other team? I think there was lots of room for growth on our group.
That’s what we’ve got to do. We’re done the first half and we’ve got 48 points. That’s crawling into the playoffs – 96 [points]. If you don’t want to crawl into the playoffs, you’ve got to be better. Now, we’re plus seven at home in the second half, and ideally, we’re going to get healthy one of these days, too. That should help us. You never know. You’ve just got to dig in.
On Mitch Marner’s play versus Tampa and his improving confidence:
I think his second and third were way better than his first. He knows he’s a driver on his team. He’s got to come in with swagger each and every day and lead by example with his work ethic and improving his game, getting stronger, living right. Do all of those things and things will work out for him.
He’s just got to keep grinding. We count on a lot of young people here, as you know. We need him to be good.
On the young core learning to deal with the heightened expectations:
I think the big thing is just be yourself and work hard each and every day. We really believe we have enough talent in the room. We’ve got to find a way to be better on a consistent basis, and that’s all part of that process. Learning to win every day and doing things right and sacrificing individual things for the team is so important. “I’m not evaluating when my next shift is or whether I played on the power play or didn’t. I’m just working hard to help the guys win.” That’s the biggest priority for us.
On Roman Polak and Frederik Gauthier battling back from serious injuries:
The guys worked hard. I thought Goat was good for us last night. Polie is a guy who obviously didn’t start the year on our roster. He’s become an important player for us like he has is in the past. Just a competitive guy. Obviously, with Zaitsev out of the lineup, different people are playing in different situations, but Polie has been real solid for us. That’s important.
Any time you get a setback, you’ve got to dig in. It’s no different than anything in life. Sport mirrors life. You’ve got to dig in. There is no sense in feeling sorry for yourself. No one else does.
On the celebration of Johnny Bower’s life:
I just think it’s spectacular. I said this last night: I really believe, in the end, the measure of a man is the family he raises and the impact they have on society. It is your obligation to do good things for those people and set them up with a foundation so they can go out and earn their own confidence and make a difference in the world. When you see that group out there, obviously, it’s pretty special. There must have been some serious parties at their place, oh my goodness. But the celebration of that life that will happen here today is phenomenal. He obviously had a fantastic life and touched a lot of people, but no more important than his family.
On the strides Morgan Rielly has taken this season:
I think what stands out most – when you think leadership, you think about some sort of speech or saying something. To me, leadership is just modeling and doing it every single day. To me, by bringing Hainsey in here, what’s happened to Morgan Rielly is he’s really settled in and he’s really playing. Even when we’re not good, he’s still good. That’s kind of on a night-in, night-out basis. He makes way fewer mistakes than he used to. He’s still involved offensively, but he’s not running around the rink. He knows the score and the time. That’s all part of just maturing. We need lots of guys to do that here, actually. It’s a good step for him.
On Nikita Soshnikov’s progress in his injury rehab:
I just saw him on the table there this morning. He walked in the rink early with me yesterday and was in here early today. I guess he’s working at it.
On the Leafs coming out down a man after Frederik Andersen got cross-checked vs. Tampa Bay:
I just thought that the way the league is set up is you protect the goalie. Our goalie held his stick. He then cross-checked him. To me, when you cross-check the goalie, you deserve a good beating. To me, I just find a way to know what is going on in the game. You let that thing all even out. What I would say to you is this: The referee and the linesmen are trying to get it right. It’s going fast. It’s hard. They’re not trying to screw anybody. They’re doing the best they possibly can. I just thought that was a situation that should’ve been 50/50. When you hit someone’s goalie, you deserve a good pop.