Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Wednesday, discussing Igor Ozhiganov’s acclimation and potential to improve, William Nylander getting up to speed, managing matchups down the middle, and more.
Travis Dermott was talking about how he and Igor Ozhiganov are working on communicating better. Where do you see opportunity for them to improve?
Babcock: They’ve got to be better defensively. Dermy has quick-twitch fibers and he can move the puck and do all of those things, but you’ve got to be good defensively and you can’t make mistakes at key times in games. That’s part of being a kid and learning.
Ozzy has unbelievable skill, size, stick, brain. Good defensively. He’s got to get quicker and knows that and has worked at it. We’re hoping that with more time in the league, he can end up being what we hope he can be. That could end up being a good pair for us.
With Ozhiganov, in your experience, have you seen guys come into the league and get markedly quicker over their career?
Babcock: I saw Dadonov play in Russia before he came here. The two things don’t look the same. He is a dominant player now. When we watched him — and I watched him closely — that’s not what I saw. I mean, Ozzy is way down in weight and way up in muscle in a short period of time, and it takes time.
When a guy like [Zaitsev] came over, there was no evaluation, period, at that time on our team. He just went out there and played and whatever happened… Now, there is an evaluation every night. We expect him to be good. But we think he can be an elite penalty killer. We really do. We haven’t even penalty killed him yet. That’s our plan moving ahead.
William Nylander was saying that it is hard not to get frustrated with yourself when the level of production you were expecting off the start wasn’t there from the get-go. What do you tell him in a position like this to make sure he doesn’t get down?
Babcock: Well, there was a way to solve that, wasn’t there? I didn’t say that, but I mean, come on… What are you getting frustrated for? If you don’t come to training camp and you don’t start the year… I mean, there was business to be done and he got his business done. Now the business to be done is to get up and running. Getting frustrated for yourself or disappointed — or whatever word you want to use — is just a total waste of energy.
Get excited. You’re in the National Hockey League. Get to work and fight your way back. Nobody is surprised. Nobody. I am not concerned about it. Dig in and get playing.
On the challenge against the Panthers on Thursday night
Babcock: Florida beat us the other night. We weren’t prepared at the start and they outplayed us. We were able to get the game back to even in the third period. We like to start on time, kind of like we did last night. We know we are playing a real good team. Barkov ran our show last game. Dominated us, basically. We’ve got to look after that.
If you’re trying to shut down a player like Barkov, how challenging is it when he plays 26 or 27 minutes a night?
Babcock: It should be easier, right? It should be hard for the first seven or eight, and then it should get better for you and you should be able to take advantage of it. With the depth we have down the middle, every guy should be able to play against him and we shouldn’t have an issue with that. In saying that, he decided he was going to be determined and he was better than us the other night.
Now, they’ve got a whole group of guys there, not just that one guy. Luongo good saves. I thought their big three on the backend was special as well. Their specialty teams won the game 2-0.
Having the forward depth you have now, have you settled on what line you want matching against good centers like that or not?
Babcock: Not one bit. I am not going to spend a whole lot of time worrying about it. I am going to get everyone up and running, and then I’ll spend maybe ten games in a row of each guy getting their opportunity so that they are ready for any matchup come playoff time. But right now we’ve just got to get playing. That’s our focus. We just talked about Willy. Matty has just come back. Get everyone up and running and we’ll go from there.