Mike Babcock met with the media after practice on Thursday, talking about the power play’s success in the win over the Montreal Canadiens, the importance of heaviness in the league, Zach Hyman’s importance to the team, and more.
There is much talk about your power play, obviously. How much can your penalty kill improve over the course of a year, getting a chance to practice against them regularly?
Babcock: Obviously, it helps. But let’s not get carried away. We played some exhibition games. It’s got to go right. We’ve got to be detailed and structured. Good players are one thing. Good scheme and doing it right every day is another thing.
The great thing about our power play over the last couple of years is that we’ve had two good units. In the end, you can have one really good unit, but if the other unit doesn’t do anything, you still don’t add up on the power play. We’ve got lots of work to do and we understand that.
They had a good night last night. We didn’t play great by any means. Our skill was good, so we were able to win.
Do you think you’ll eventually have Igor Ozhiganov killing penalties?
Babcock: Not eventually. I think right away.
Auston Matthews said he was working on retooling his shot a little bit in the offseason. What does it say about him that a guy who scored on a 45-goal pace last year and scored 40 in his first year is still looking to find that extra edge?
Babcock: Well, we’re hoping that 18 years in, he’s talking to you about how he retooled something this summer. That is how good players get better. That is how all of us in any field get better. As soon as we stop doing that, we’re probably not as good as we should be at our job.
Over the offseason, there was talk that maybe DJ Smith moves on and maybe Sheldon Keefe. With them both back, how does it help your continuity of this program?
Babcock: I’m pulling for those guys to get jobs. I’ve got a lot of guys that I’ve worked with in the past that are head coaches other places. Obviously, Smitty looked like he was in line there for the job on the Island. They hired a real good man in Trotzy. These guys are all looking to have opportunities. Someone has got to want to hire you. The better job you do with the Leafs and the more you win, the more opportunity there is for those guys.
Nazem Kadri had a goal last night. What are you expecting from him this year and what have you seen so far?
Babcock: I think Naz has been good. He is skating better than he ever has. He is in good shape. He is a nasty guy to play against. We’ve got to get his line sorted out and we will over time. But he plays man in the middle on the power play. He’s got good grease on him. He’s not scared to be there. That is why he can score in those situations. At 5-on-5, we’ve still got to get that line going.
How much have you seen that you’ve liked out of Tavares and Marner and that line at 5-on-5?
Babcock: Well, we’ve only played one game, right?
What about Mitch just in general?
Babcock: They look like they’re real good players. There are three guys on a line. The other guy on the line named Hyman kind of sets the tone for us. We are not a big, physical team. He’s a forechecker. We lost Leo in that regard. Last night we didn’t forecheck at all or play in the o-zone, for that matter. Those are things we are missing. I think they have a chance to be a good line. If you asked me five games into the season, I’ll have a better chance of telling you.
With that in mind with not being a big, physical team, have you noticed a shift in guys not being as muscular in this league and the focus being on getting faster?
Babcock: Well, they’re more muscular than they’ve ever been. Just the size of their bodies isn’t the same as it used to be. We used to draft way more guys that were. And yet, you look at all of the teams, and the Washington Capitals were the biggest team in the NHL last year. There is a reason you win, too, right? Especially at playoff time. Let’s not get carried away. We need big men.
How strange do you think it’ll be to play Detroit without Henrik Zetterberg in the lineup?
Babcock: In exhibition? Probably not. But when the regular season starts, obviously Z has been a big part of the organization. They’ve had a lot of great players there. They are looking to pass the torch to other guys. I know when Stevie and Shanny left that year, they passed it onto Z and Pav and Nick. They did just fine with it. I’d imagine that it is a storied franchise and they’ll retool and be ready to go.
You touched on Hyman’s role on his line. What are you expecting to see from him this year?
Babcock: I just think Hyman is a real good player for us. He is an important player for us because of the size of him, because of the way he plays, because of the cycle. We don’t have a lot of that and we need that. We all get enamoured with other things, but to win, you need heavy people that get to the net, get you the puck back, and get your players the puck back. He’s good at it.