At the end of the bye week, Mike Babcock met with the media after practice on Monday.
On returning from the week off:
Babcock: We’ve got six games in the next 10 nights before we get another break, so obviously, we need to get focused. Since Christmas, we’re .500. That’s not good enough, so we’ve got to find a way to be better. I think we talked about that. We tried to address some of our needs, and then we need to get playing.
What have you seen from Morgan Rielly’s first half of the season that has allowed him to be more productive offensively than he’s maybe been in the past?
Babcock: He’s playing on the power play, for starters. We never let him play on the power play last night. I think he’s had a real good half; take the last two games out, and it’s been a real good half. We need Mo to not only be good offensively but a good lockdown guy for us and play against the best people and be a star for us. We need him to make all the right plays at the right times.
We’ve got to be careful we’re not overplaying him here of late just because any time you take Zaitsev out of the lineup there are a lot of minutes there. When guys play too much, sometimes their decisions aren’t as good as they should be.
Mo has had a real good half. He wants to build off of it. He’s an important guy on our team. He has to continue to get better. When your best players play like your best players, you’ve got a chance to win most nights.
Is it an advantage for a guy like Travis Dermott to be able to play those games with the Marlies while his teammates were off?
Babcock: Obviously, it’s important for him. We talked about it and we gave the coaches specific instruction with him on what to focus on. Now he gets another opportunity. The opportunity is drying up when Zaitsev is back for somebody, so obviously, the better he does, the better opportunity he has to be here.
Do you have a ballpark for when Zaitsev could get back?
Would you be surprised if Dermott plays himself out of that rotation and into a regular spot fairly quickly?
Babcock: Well, I don’t deal with that part. I don’t have to be a betting man or anything. I just watch them play. If he plays good enough, it’s straightforward. In the league, the guys that play the best get to play. That’s it.
What did you do on your break, Mike?
Babcock: Went with some friends and had some fun.
Are you able to completely disconnect during the bye week or use it as a chance to do some inventory on hockey?
Babcock: I didn’t. I was good. From when I left until — I think — Sunday, I made sure I didn’t. I tried to encourage the players to do the same thing. Do something else. All of a sudden, they came around and flipped into gear.
What did you think of the Canadian Olympic announcement?
Babcock: I talked to those guys a couple of times. I talked to [Dave King] again the other day. What did I think of the Olympic announcement? I’m jealous. I think there are a lot of players in our league who would be jealous, too. It’s the best sporting event ever, so you’d like to be part of it. But you wish the team well.