Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Wednesday, touching on the team finding the balance between offense and defense, John Tavares’ strength around the net, and much more.
How important is team speed to the creativity we’ve been able to see here through four games?
Babcock: Team speed is very important. I don’t know about the creativity thing. The more skill the offensive player has, the more room he has to be creative. If you don’t have as much skill, you’ve got to get it in and forecheck. We’re fortunate to have enough skilled people and we’ve got good team speed.
Last night was one of the first nights that you actually saw it. I thought that was the most engaged we’ve been. To be a good team, you’ve got to be engaged every night and you’ve got to learn how to do it every night. That is the process we are in. We have done it once. Now we’ve got to do it again.
How much do you think John Tavares and Auston Matthews, with the hot starts they’re having, will push each other to higher levels as the season goes on?
Babcock: I think that’s why you have lots of good players. Ideally, they’re all pushing each other to get better. I think that is what having lots of depth on your team is all about. You’ve got to have great depth throughout your lineup. I think that’s important. When you get a chance to get in, you want to play well, so you push.
In their case, there’s a little friendly competition going against each other each day in practice. Playing against good players is a good thing for you.
Auston, obviously, has improved his skating. Where have you seen that improvement help him the most this year?
Babcock: In fairness to him, he’s obviously worked on a lot of things this summer. He’s way bigger, way stronger, quicker. But also, last year, if you remember, he was really going at the start, too, and he got injured. With the injuries he had, he wasn’t able to skate. I think that’s part of when you say his skating [is better]. But he’s done a good job.
He worked with Barb, but he’s done a lot of things. That is what good players do — they spend the offseason trying to get better. Obviously, confidence is a big part of that as well, and good linemates. You add it all together and he’s doing a good job.
There is a lot of talk out there about all the early-season scoring records. Is the bottom line for you banking these points early, as many as you can get?
Babcock: A lot of talk out there… I don’t even know who that is. But I guess what I would say to you is it’s exciting for our players. They want to score. I think that’s great. I think, in the end, you’ve got to really defend well and you’ve got to give up as few chances as you possibly can. At the same time, you want to generate offense. We’ve got to learn to do both. That is the process. But you’re right — the goal each night is to find a way to win and get points and set yourself up so you have a chance to be in the playoffs.
You mentioned Zach Hyman the other night not getting the assist. Apparently, the league did give him one. Is that a little reward for some of the good things he’s done?
Babcock: I think he gets rewarded lots. He plays with good players. He’s on the ice. He’s directly involved in the two goals for sure. He made them happen. Whether you get the point or not I don’t think matters. What matters is — are you helping your team? Are you doing what you can to help your linemates? I think they’ve got a real good line there.
Finally, going back to Detroit. You’ve been back a couple times, but…
Babcock: About four years straight, yeah. I don’t think about it very much, to be honest with you. We haven’t been to their new building on a day where you can skate and see the building. I haven’t seen the building yet, so that will be good to see. We’ve been in there and out; always back to backs. That’ll be good.
They’ve got a good, young, fast team. They’re really skating. Last game in the exhibitions, they pumped us. Let’s get back on track against them.
You talk about Kapanen and consistency. In regards to Frederik Gauthier and what he was able to do last night, does that mean moving forward and using that size?
Babcock: It’s the same thing for Goat. Kappy’s had two. Now Goat has to get to two. You’ve got to learn to do it every day. The NHL is tough. It’s hard on you. That consistent level watermark that you find has got to be NHL-like. Those guys are in the process of finding that out. I thought Goat had a real good night last night.
What makes John Tavares so good down low and so effective?
Babcock: Well, really talented, really committed, and really heavy on his stick. His stick is like a crowbar. You can’t lift it off the ice. But he’s got skill, determination, good linemates. He’s a good hockey player and he likes hockey and he comes in every day and tries to get better every day. He’s good to have on the club.