Mike Babcock: “We’re way quicker than we’ve been playing and way heavier than we’ve been playing”

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Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock after practice

Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Tuesday, discussing the tough loss to Columbus, areas for improvement, Travis Dermott’s play since joining the big club, the upcoming bye week, and more.


What are the qualities of your hockey club that will enable it to bounce back from a tough loss and move forward tomorrow night?

Babcock: What we talked about here this morning is that we stole a game from Vancouver with 10 minutes left or 11 minutes left. We were down 2-0 and went out and stole it. Last night, they did the same. If you go through it, we had tons of chances in regulation. Scoring chances-wise, we probably owned the majority of that game. In the end, they scored. It probably came out pretty even. Hockey gods got a way of getting you. You work hard every night and you get results. When you cheat the system once, they get you back. How’s that?

Last night, you talked about how the team could be way better. Where do you see those opportunities to improve?

Babcock: I just think we’re way quicker than we’re playing and way heavier than we’re playing. I think that’s got to come, for sure. I don’t think we’ve played as good as we can in the last while. We can play better.

Now, the other teams are trying, too. There are good teams. There is not much to pick between anybody. If you go through, I think our last three games have gone to overtime. That seems to be every night. It doesn’t matter if the team is at the bottom of the standings or the top of the standings, it’s going to be a good game. That’s just the way our league is. I think that’s great for the league, to be honest with you. It doesn’t make it easy night to night.

We’ve got one game before our break. It’s against Ottawa, and they’re going to be hard. We know it, so we’ve got to be prepared.

With those three overtime games, what, for you, goes into deciding who starts in overtime?

Babcock: That is a great question. We talked about that today. I asked that same question of my staff today: “Who should play in overtime and in what order should they be in?” So that’s a real good question.

What I do is I watch the game and whoever is playing good, I try to get them out there. Some guys are better in those situations because they skate better, and other guys aren’t. Other guys only think about one side of the puck and don’t think about the other side of the puck. Should you jam that guy out first and he scores, and you don’t have to worry about him coming back? Those are all great questions, so we asked them all, just like you did.

How do you decide on pairings?

Babcock: I just try to decide on a group that can score. Obviously, last night, it wasn’t right. We didn’t win. I look at it. I look at guys who were working real hard in the game and maybe never got an opportunity there. Maybe I should’ve gone with those guys.

It’s just kind of like the shootout. We have the same discussions over and over again. We do the same with our lines. We do the same with our power play. We do the same with who is playing less than other guys. We ask those questions over and over again.

With the break upcoming, do you try to get the subtle message across to keep the motor running throughout it?

Babcock: The first message we do is try to make sure everyone has their trip organized today, so that when the game is on tomorrow, you haven’t left. You’re focused on getting the points. We need the points. It’s a huge priority for us.

The second thing is, as a young coach, I would’ve wanted to take their skates to the Bahamas, find some ice, and skate. You and I both know that’s not happening. I think you pick the battles you can. We’ve got a good sports science team who give them good information on how they can help themselves and go from there. And then we’ve got to get back and get going.

Any time you take time off and you’re getting the motor going and getting skating again, it’s not as easy as you might think. The good thing is that the teams you are playing when you come back off this break are the teams that have been doing the same thing you have.

When you look at Travis Dermott’s skill set, when he plays to his potential, what does he add to this lineup?

Babcock: Number one is, every time I came here in the summer, he was working like Hyman and Brown. That separates you. In overtime, that’s going to separate you from the group. The second thing is he’s got skill and he can skate.

He hasn’t played with us a ton. The defensive side and the box outs and all of those things that are harder… the first goal last night, Foligno got to the net on him. Little things like that get better as time goes on with experience and just practicing with our guys and being around.

What can he evolve into? You’re always hoping every guy you bring in here is going to play in your top four, play 22 minutes a night, and be safe defensively and move the puck. That’s what you’re hoping for.