Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Tuesday, discussing the team’s offense drying up in the past two games, sorting out the ice time allocation for his centermen, Par Lindholm’s play on the wing, and much more.
Offense ebbs and flows over any season… what is the key to consistency for a group that is as good as you’ve got, knowing every now and then it’s going to dry up?
Babcock: It dries up for a number of reasons. When it’s work ethic or detail in your game, those are things you can fix. Other times, teams play good against you and take it away. I don’t think you ever want to discredit the other team. I think the last two opponents have played real well against us and I don’t think we’ve been as good.
What we tried to do today is address it. Last practice was more about work. Today was more about being in the right spots so we can generate offense. The other thing about our league is that, once they watch you, they try to defend you. They’ve got a coaching staff. We have a coaching staff. You are trying to make it hard on the opposition to generate offense. That is why the game is so good. You’ve got to still work at it and find a way to create.
Does it start in the defensive zone and how you are breaking out – making more guys available to help?
Babcock: That could be part of it. What came first – the chicken or the egg? Does it start in the offensive zone, where you play heavy and wear them out and you don’t have to get back in your zone? Does it start on faceoffs? It starts in a lot of different spots. It is where you want it to start.
You obviously want to come out clean every time, but if they’re on top of your D and your D’s faces are in the glass, those D are not going to make a lot of plays. That is just the reality.
How do you feel Patrick Marleau has fit in on the Auston Matthews line so far this season?
Babcock: It’s like anything. They’re rolling along pretty good and suddenly they’re not quite as good. But the measure of us all is every day and what we do. We just try to get better every day. Patty Marleau is an incredible pro and an incredible person. Not only is he here to play his own game and focus on his own game and get that better all the time, he is here to help the rest of us get better. He is a real sounding board for me. He is real good for the young guys. He knows what is important. He doesn’t have to say much. He just kind of does things right. He is an important part of the team.
How do you like how Par Lindholm has adapted to left wing?
Babcock: I mean, that wasn’t the plan, right? He is a real good player. He is intelligent. He makes lots of plays on his backhand. I think he is going to turn into a real good NHL player here. He is a good pro. He plays hard every day. He is smart. You can play him in all situations.
You’ve coached teams that have had giant bulls eyes on their back in Detroit. Is it a challenge for a team to play through that knowing you’re going to get every team’s best?
Babcock: We talked about that here the other day. Everybody says they want to be that. Everyone wants to be the best. But being the best means every day. It means bringing it every day. It means you’ve got to do your part every single day.
Sometimes it’s better for some guys just to hide on a team that is not as good. You get your points and go home and nobody ever worries about it. But if you want to be on the big stage playing with the best teams, you’ve got to want it every single day. You’ve got to take the good with the bad. You show and you do this when it goes good and when it goes bad. You bring it every single day. I think that is the challenge for our group. It’s a lot of fun.
With Frederik Gauthier, what do you see this time versus previous stints?
Babcock: I think the Goat has always been better in the NHL than he has in the minors. In the minors, you want him to do more. Here, we just want him to do what he is doing. He is big. He is on the defensive side of the puck. I haven’t used him on the penalty kill and that’s not because he can’t; we just haven’t. He can penalty kill for us.
In our situation, too, we’ve got three centers that want a lot of ice time. I’d like to have Matty and Johnny always between 18 and 19 – right at that level. I’d like to have Naz around 16 in the middle. That doesn’t leave a ton of cake for you. That is just reality. You’ve got to do your work quickly and efficiently.
You got a chance to watch Winnipeg last night and their big comeback. You have them twice this week. What kind of challenge are you anticipating?
Babcock: I look forward to it. I think they’re a real good team. I’ve watched them a few times coming into this game. They are a fun team to watch. They have a big, mobile backend. Good depth up front. Good goaltending. Good team. It should be a lot of fun.
We are going to have to play better than we have the last few games, but we look forward to playing them. It should be good.
What stood out about John Tavares’ daily approach to his game, having had him here every day?
Babcock: Just a pro. He wants to get better. What you like about him, too, is he has been around, so he has an opinion on things, which I think is real important. You don’t just walk into the door and suddenly get a say. You earn the right to get a say. I don’t know if that makes any sense to you. But he’s done that over time by being a good pro and being a good player. He wants to be a better player. What I like about him is he is all in every day.
He was the last one off the ice today.
Babcock: Obviously, he is a professional. We are all the same way. If your team doesn’t play as good, you dig in. That’s just the way you do it. You dig in and you try to find a new way to be better. I think that is the challenge to everybody. That is what we talked about in one of the previous questions: Everyday. You’ve got to reinvent yourself and get better every single day if you want to be the best.