Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Friday, discussing Frederik Andersen’s possible return versus Boston, a big Saturday-night matchup against the Bruins, Nikita Zaitsev’s play, and more.
On the prospects of Frederik Andersen starting tomorrow, is there any more certainty in regards to that?
Babcock: No, not at all. We will know who is starting tomorrow around 11 o’clock and we’ll get that figured out and go from there.
Is this matchup tomorrow, at this point in the season, good for this hockey club? Maybe the same could be asked of them as well.
Babcock: I just think they are a team that has played us real well. We think we can play better. In the standings, they’re right there with us. It’s an important game. We’re excited to have the opportunity to play them and play well.
That top line does a lot of driving of their offense. What do you tell your guys in order to contain them?
Babcock: I think, obviously, they’re good players. What I really like about them is not only are they skilled, they put their work ethic in front of their skill. They’re good in the face-off circle. They play right. They come at you with speed and grit and determination. I think they’re a real good example for our guys. If you want to be elite players, you’ve got to play that hard.
When it comes to line matching, how much do you look at a line versus a D core or a line versus a line?
Babcock: Both. Tomorrow, for us, we’ll do both to help give ourselves the best opportunity we possibly can, and go from there.
When you guys beat them earlier this season, what did you like about your game then?
Babcock: I don’t remember any of it. I’m not kidding around — I don’t remember any of it. What we’ve done is the prescout on them and their last two games. Now what we’ll do in the morning, or later this afternoon, is go through all of our games against them, figure it out, and go from there. To tell you the truth, I don’t remember at all.
How important is starting the postseason at home?
Babcock: Winning tomorrow is on my mind and just staying in the process and getting better usually looks after those things. There are no guarantees that that is going to happen. There are really good teams on our side here and really good teams we’re playing against. Would you like to start at home? For sure. We’ve been pretty good on the road.
What has allowed Morgan to stay fairly consistent through the first half of the season?
Babcock: Just maturity. I mean, he is so much better defensively and so much more comfortable. He makes elite plays every night and plays every night. We talked about it before — with him and Marner, they’ve got so much energy, it’s unbelievable. It’s unfortunate for those guys; they’re obviously elite players and All-Stars that aren’t going. But better for us — they get a little time off.
Last game against Boston was pretty physical. Zach got his suspension. Do you expect more of the same? Targets on backs, and that sort of stuff?
Babcock: I don’t know for sure. The bottom line is you’ve got to go out there and play. That is the most important thing — how hard you compete on the puck. The rest usually looks after itself.
Nikita Zaitsev doesn’t get a lot of headlines…
Babcock: He does for me.
What has grown about his game as time has gone on?
Babcock: He can speak English. He understands what we want and how to do it. He closes by far the best of anybody on our team. He is a real good defender. He competes hard each and every night. He is a guy who is accountable. He just comes every day and does it right and tries to get better. You need guys like that. You need guys with jam and he has that.
Rick Nash retired today. He played some of his best hockey internationally for you.
Babcock: Nasher is a good guy. I’ve talked to him a fair bit here over time. It is disappointing for him, obviously, but with a family, priorities are priorities. I’ve known him well for a long time. He is a good man and we wish him well.
The decision on Frederik Andersen a medical one or just a decision hockey-wise?
Babcock: That’ll be based on what information I get. If I go to a player every day and ask him how he is doing, I am just putting heat on him. I am not doing that. When they are ready, they usually come and tell you. If someone comes and tells you, they get a get-out-of-jail-free card and they get going.
What have you liked about how Michael Hutchinson has approached things?
Babcock: Well, he’s not a kid. He’s a good man and he just comes in each and every day and does his job the best he possibly can. I think he has done a nice job for us.
Nazem Kadri hasn’t had much in the way of puck luck lately. How is he handling that when it goes that way?
Babcock: I just think Naz has done a good job here of late. I thought in his last couple of games, he’s been playing better and skating better. I thought he was good last night. He’s just got to keep building off of it. He’s a good player and we need him to be good.