Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Wednesday, discussing Tomas Plekanec’s new role, Mitch Marner’s play in the series, Kasperi Kapanen’s contributions, the challenge ahead in Game 4, and much more.
There are some interesting parallels between this series so far and what happened in 1993. Do you remember that series?
Babcock: 1993? I was actually at Maple Leaf Gardens winning the national championship. This is what I do know about this series: We’re playing Game 4 tomorrow and we need a win. I don’t go back – even when I’m coaching the team – to a series here or a series there. They are all different and individual. I think we’re in a real good spot. I think this will be the most competitive game so far in this series. Obviously, they’re going to be ready to play. Any time you don’t win, you want to bounce back hard. We expect their best game, for sure. As far as what happened to the Leafs in 1993, I don’t know much about it.
When a guy like Tomas Plekanec gets an increased role and increased minutes, how much does that maybe spark the guy or give him a little extra?
Babcock: I think all of us in our life want to be important. When you come to a team and you’re traded, and you’re traded to do something different than you’ve done, I think it’s probably harder for you to find your way. For whatever reason, he didn’t get that same opportunity. When he got that opportunity the other night, I thought Marner, Marleau and him were really good and effective for us in the game. That is positive for him.
He did a good job against the Bergeron line. Is it about the consistency now of not doing it once but two or three times?
Babcock: If you’re those guys, what you’re saying to yourselves is, “We’re going to have a better night.” They’ve shown over a period of time that they have lots of good nights. Our job is to make sure they don’t.
The other thing that happened in the game was that Freddy was real good. Not as much early, but he really got his game going. If you look at Game 2, Game 2 wasn’t the same that way. That’s probably the biggest difference of anything.
How has Mitch Marner grown to the point where he can be trusted in a matchup role?
Babcock: I just think Mitch is a better hockey player – way stronger, for one. One of the most impressive plays in the game – I don’t know if you remember – was when he was in the o-zone and he was one-on-one with Bergeron on the boards. Marchand came in and managed to [beat] both of them and get the puck. He’s stronger. Last year, at this time, he was injured, didn’t have his confidence, and wasn’t as good. He’s stronger and he’s playing with a real good player in Patty, and Plek did a real good job the other night. I thought that line was our best line. I thought they were real effective.
The play he made to take Rielly’s stretch pass – to me, that’s a ridiculous amount of skill. It presents another option for a d-man who might be in trouble just to get it up the boards and he be able to turn it into something.
Babcock: Yeah, he wasn’t in trouble there. He was skating with the puck. Mitch had stretched it out. The way it came off the boards bouncing, he was able to handle it. You give good players the puck and they pick it up. They always say, “You can’t give a good player a bad pass.” That’s the reason why.
Of the Big Three, is there one that concerns you more than the other two?
Babcock: Okay, so, who is the big three?
Bergeron, Pastrnak and Marchand.
Babcock: Oh, Boston’s guys. They all concern me. They’re all real good players and they’re all different. They’re all real effective and they’ve been good against us. Obviously, the less touches we give them and the less time and space, the better off we’ll be. The less time we spend in the box – all of those things make us more effective.
You knew Bergeron was a good player before he played for you for Canada. But, for those two Olympics and the Word Cup, what did you learn that maybe you didn’t know before?
Babcock: Obviously, before, the first time I had him at the Worlds, I didn’t know who he was. He was just a kid in the NHL. He was a real good player at that time. In 2010, it didn’t go as good for him as he would’ve liked at the Olympics, and yet, obviously a real important player. In 2014, he was a huge part – played with Crosby. At the World Cup, that was the best line by a country mile – the three of those guys. All you do is you learn they’re competitive people with real good hockey sense that make good plays and like to win. That’s why those guys are going to be better next game. They’ve been through it all. With their experience, they’re going to respond.
In the same way, that’s what this is all about. This is all about growing your group here and having a great opportunity. We’re playing in a great barn. It’s going to be a great crowd. The national anthem was unbelievable the other night – just scary good. And then we got off to a good start. We need to do the same. But they’re going to be good.
Do you see a different, angrier Morgan Rielly in that game?
Babcock: Did you ask him?
He played a great game.
Babcock: He was outstanding. His mom came to town and gave him a little tightening.
What does Kapanen have to do to be most effective in a series like this?
Babcock: He’s got to shoot the puck. He’s got to skate like crazy, be physical on the forecheck, be real good on the penalty kill. When Kappy is physical and he’s competing and he’s flying, I think he’s real effective.
Do you think he can do more than what he has so far?
Babcock: I think he’s been good. I think he’s done a lot with the ice time he’s been given. It’s like anything – as he does more, he’ll earn more and get more opportunity.
Is your foot speed important in extending time in the offensive zone, Mike? We saw you working on a few things out there today.
Babcock: What we’re trying to do, obviously, is spend more time there. A big part of that is you’ve got to execute clean coming out of your own zone, and there are a number of things you have to do before that happens. But if we can spend more time in the o-zone, it’s hard for the opposition – no different for them. Whether that be turn backs, whether that be getting your butt out and being heavy on it and not giving it back – whatever you’ve got to do within your skill set, you should be doing. Time in the o-zone is important in a series if you want to be effective.
What did you like about the Matthews line in Game 3?
Babcock: I thought Willy skated real good. I thought Auston got the weight of the world off his back. Hyms was like Hyms is every day. That line can get to a whole other level for us, though. I think they’ll be way better. I thought last game – for Rielly, for Freddy, for Matty — they were all huge games for those guys just so they can be loose and driving and settle in and do what they do.