Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Monday, discussing Connor Carrick’s progression, Patrick Marleau’s impact, and status updates on Nikita Zaitsev, Nikita Soshnikov and Morgan Rielly.
On getting Nikita Zaitsev back into practice:
Babcock: Yeah, it’s good. Obviously, he’s a good player for us. It’s pretty evident we missed him when he was gone. I don’t know [when he’ll be back for sure]. He’s been skating quite a bit. I don’t know what exactly the process is. We just put him in a pair and let him go with it. It was a good workout today. Our guys had good pace. I thought he did fine. We’ll see how he reacts and go from there.
Weeks ago, you were talking about guys you could just put a check beside and you knew they were going to bring it. How does that manifest itself? What do you like ago about the guy he is every game?
Babcock: Well, I think the more of those guys you have, the better off you are, obviously. They gravitate towards one another. The more people that do it right every single day, that becomes the moral fibre or the work ethic of the club, or whatever you want to call it. So you take good steps. Nikita is a very competitive guy with and without the puck. He’s got a good skill set and he brings it on a nightly basis, so he makes you better.
In what ways have you seen that you guys missed him? Is there a certain area?
Babcock: Lots of areas. We’re just not as good and not as deep. The mistakes we make on defense because we’ve got guys in the wrong spots… some guys are just better in the five-six hole than the three-four hole. When we’ve got those two pairs, you’ve got two pairs that can play against anybody and you don’t have to be concerned or as worried about your matchup. People are all comfortable playing in their spots. I think it’s real significant.
We saw Morgan skating before practice. How is his recovery coming?
Babcock: He says good. He thinks he is further ahead than the trainers. I don’t know who wins that one in the end. We’ll figure that out. He says he’s going good, so he’ll let us know.
A little over half way into the season now, it really seems like Patrick Marleau, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner have developed a great relationship. How have you found Patrick helps the two young guys in their second year?
Babcock: You’d have to ask them about the relationship part. I don’t know that. I think Patty helps everybody because he does it right each and every day. At the same time, I think those guys help Patty because they’ve got energy, and youthful enthusiasm never hurt anybody. I think it’s a two-way street.
In saying that, he has a relationship with all of our players. Any time you are around a guy who’s had the success he’s had, and is as diligent and embraces the monotony of the game and all of the little things you need to do to be successful like he does, it’s a good lesson for you. When you’re feeling sorry for yourself in the grind, all you do is look at him and he’s going faster than anybody else. You say, “How does a guy who is 37 years old go faster and work harder than me?” You pull up your bootstraps a little bit.
How close is Nikita Soshnikov to getting in?
Babcock: That’s a good question, and I don’t know the process for that exactly and what’s going to happen there. We’re just going to see when he is ready and go from there.
Is a conditioning stint still on the table?
Babcock: For sure. We’ve got to figure all of that out. He hasn’t played hockey, so he’s got to get that right.
How helpful are the two practice days coming out of the break?
Babcock: I think it’s good for us, obviously. We haven’t had practice, it doesn’t seem like, in forever where you could actually do some work and weren’t worried about the next night. I think it’s a positive thing. We really feel like our team can take a step. We feel over this last while we’ve done lots of good things but it didn’t show in the scoreboard lots of nights. We still thought we did lots of good things and we think we can take a real step. That’s what we’re hoping to do as we come out of this break.
How have you seen Connor Carrick progress since the start of the season?
Babcock: Well, we talk to Connor about the same things all of the time. The hardest part in the league is to get your confidence and to be good enough defensively that your skill set is allowed to come out. For him, it’s always about going back and getting the puck and moving it, and being heavy enough on defense so that you’re not in any of the clips. That’s what we watch for.
Lots of other people, I assume, when you’re watching a game and you see him get a shot through, you go, “That’s great.” That’s the bonus area for me. Doing it without the puck and getting it going is always the issue…. not an issue, but always the part where he has to get better at. It’s a hard league and he’s getting better.
Did you get down to see your son play over the break? How did he look?
Babcock: He looks just fine. He’s a nice kid and we like him.