Mike Babcock met with the media after practice on Thursday, discussing the team’s depth, Andreas Johnsson’s emergence, the duo of Nazem Kadri and Patrick Marleau, the decision to bench William Nylander against the Panthers, and more.
As your club gets ready to take on a team with centers like John Tavares and Mathew Barzal, do you like how your team has developed up the middle this year given the balance and the competitive nature of all four lines?
Babcock: Obviously, we’ve got good balance over four lines. Going on the road, you don’t have to worry about it as much. Those guys are real good players and they’re always a handful, but we’re pretty comfortable with our group.
Andreas Johnsson was saying that, in hindsight, he is glad he didn’t get an NHL opportunity sooner than he did because he didn’t think his game was where it needed to be. Is it tough to preach patience to those young players, especially when they’re a little older as rookies?
Babcock: I don’t bother doing that. It’s real simple: The people down there are the people that are talking to him every day. That would be Kyle and Sheldon. The reality is, when you get here too soon, you leave too soon. You never get good enough. Confidence is hard to get in the NHL. If you have it when you arrive, you are way better off. I think Johnny has done a real good job and looks like a real good hockey player. He didn’t get the same opportunity last night just because of the way we were matching, but still is effective each and every night.
What do you think about the way Connor Carrick has handled the ins and outs of the lineup this season?
Babcock: He’s a real good pro. No one works harder to try to get better every day. We give him specific things and he’s worked at his game.
That is part of life in the NHL. Everyone wants to be a top-six forward or a top-four D, but that’s just not the reality of the situation. But if you’re a good person and you work real hard, you can find a way to last in the league a long time. You look at a guy like Ron Hainsey — in and out, in and out, in and out. He had a hard time sticking, and then suddenly, 17 years later, you’re still playing and you’re very effective. Getting in a big race… what is the difference if your career really takes off a few years later as long as you get the same length?
I think Cs is doing a real good job. He works real hard and is a real good person. We like having him around.
You’ve had Nazem Kadri and Patrick Marleau together for pretty much the whole season. What about that duo first enticed you to put them together when Patrick first signed, and what do you make of how they’ve come together as a pair?
Babcock: I just wanted Pat to be in a situation to play against the best people. He is a good 200 footer. He can really skate. By playing with Naz in a matchup role, you’re guaranteed good minutes. A veteran player like that wants to be important and wants to play good minutes. That’s part of it.
When you told me that, I had to think about it — is that really what happened? That’s not how I go about it. I put them together and if it works, you leave them together. If it doesn’t work, you change it. But they have been effective. Obviously, with Mitch right now, Mitch’s game is hitting another level right now. That helps those guys as well.
William is kicking himself over the plays that led to the second Florida goal last night. What is the message for him? What lesson do you want him to take from the game last night?
Babcock: Don’t turn the puck over. It’s real simple. The guys who had success last night — the guys who had fun and weren’t frustrated — forechecked, battled hard on defense, tracked hard, worked hard, competed hard. The guys that left the game frustrated were skilling their way around the rink. It’s simple: Put your work before your skill level and life is good.
Are you thinking Komarov will get in on Saturday, or how is it looking?
Babcock: Yeah, we actually thought he was playing tomorrow, but we just kind of talked about it here and decided we are going to go with him on Saturday instead. That’s all. He was playing one of them; he just wasn’t playing two of them.
How close were you to challenging that second goal last night?
Babcock: I don’t like the challenge we made the other night on the goal. I thought it was a bad challenge and didn’t like doing it. I only like challenging it if it’s real [obvious]. The way I look at it: If we go over the video for three minutes or four minutes and you can’t figure out right there and then whether to challenge it, it probably didn’t affect the game very much. That is the other part. Now, in saying that… No, I won’t go there.
JVR’s ability — and maybe bravery — to do what he does where does… he took a hit last night to make a play. Is that rarified air? You had guys like that in Detroit, but he is really special in that regard, isn’t he?
Babcock: I had Tomas Holmstrom. JVR’s skill set is another level. Holmer was as great as there was in those days. He got whacked, too. But I think [JVR’s] hands and his skill around the net are second to none. Obviously, since the trade deadline, he has gotten to another level. I thought that line was really good for us last night — dominated a ton of shifts and had tons of chances. Bozak alone could’ve had three or four. It was a good night for those guys. James is important for our team.