Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Monday, discussing the line changes that saw Auston Matthews skating with Mitch Marner, the team’s lack of power play opportunities, Matthews’ defensive play, and more.
Is it inevitable over the course of 82 games that lines are going to get tweaked and you’re going to make adjustments moving forward, and that in the big picture, it’s not that big of a deal?
Babcock: I suppose if you like where you got moved to you think it is a real big deal. If you don’t like where you got moved to, you think it’s a real big deal, too. You either take it or leave it. The bottom line is we haven’t won enough games here lately. I liked the process we went through last night. I liked the work we put in. I liked how much we had the puck. The bottom line is we didn’t generate enough offense to win the game.
We’ve got to find a way to be better. I wasn’t disappointed in our work ethic. I wasn’t disappointed in our preparation, or any of those things. In the end, we didn’t get enough done. You want to get enough done every single day. Sometimes before, when we were winning, we didn’t get enough done, but we were winning and we were scoring. We need guys to score and we need to find ways to win.
Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are close off the ice. How do you think they might fit together on the ice?
Babcock: Well, we’re going to watch. The biggest challenge is when you play with Mitchy, you’ve not been playing against the best players all the time, and you’ve got to play against the best players. That means you’ve got to really commit without the puck, and that’s the challenge. Tavares has done a great job for us like that. We are going to change things around for a bit. I am not telling you it is going to last more than warmup, a period, or a game, but it’s just what we had today for the skate.
Is it important at times like these for guys like Tavares and Marleau to be on the roster to kind of help steer the group?
Babcock: For sure. When I met with our leadership group today — I consider Morgan Rielly as a big part of that, too — I got a feel for that and basically asked them what they think. They share that information with you. It’s way easier for you as the coach if they share what you are thinking. When you are thinking the same thing, you’re all on the same page and let’s get moving ahead. We discussed that as a team and let’s get on with it.
You realize you’re teasing Leafs Nation when you say [the Matthews-Marner line combination] doesn’t go past the warmups, right?
Babcock: Well, it doesn’t much matter to me, so…
Is that a normal meeting you had with the leadership group or was it because of the stretch that you’ve had here?
Babcock: No, no… Whatever. Sometimes we discuss what time the flight is. Real serious stuff. You know what I mean? Or an off day, or a schedule. There is always something that you’re talking about. You try to have a good feel for what is going on.
In terms of Auston Matthews’ game defensively, how far is it from where you think it can be?
Babcock: I think, as a young guy, it can always get better. The hardest position besides D for sure is down the middle. But it is the details every time, not just once in a while. That’s the biggest challenge for all young players.
When you’ve got a few guys who have been fighting it offensively over the last ten games, can resetting the lines be a good way of sorting of giving the team the feeling of a fresh start?
Babcock: That could be part of it. I think one of the things you try to do, as much as you try to catch them doing things right and try to show them good clips, you try to show them how they play when they play well. And yet you can’t talk to them every single day, either. You’ve got to let it breathe here a little bit, too. Some adversity — we’re going through it. We’ve earned it. We’ve got to earn our way out.
With Jake Gardiner, do you go on the safe side and not play him Wednesday?
Babcock: If Jake can go, Jake is going.
You’re flipping lines more regularly. How much does a lack of continuity become important?
Babcock: Well, if we were winning and it was going good enough to have the continuity, I’d keep the continuity. But if you’re not… and we’re pretty consistent here. We do much more than lots of other people. But the bottom line is we’re not finding a way to get it done, so we’re willing to change it. I am not too worried about that. They all looked pretty excited today to me.
How much has the lack of power play time affected the group’s ability to get into a rhythm?
Babcock: I think as a power play guy, when you’re on the power play, you get to feel the puck. Sometimes you don’t score, but you still get to touch it and feel it, and that is part of it, for sure. In saying that, we had a power play last night and we didn’t use it. You get your opportunity, you want to make good on it, and we didn’t. We focused on that here today and we’ll focus on it again prior to next game and try to be better at it.
Is there an emphasis on working harder to get more of those opportunities?
Babcock: There is no question about it. But I think if you do a little study of the league, if you don’t take a lot of penalties, you don’t get a lot of power plays. It just kind of seems like there is a little line item that we checked there. It is what it is. I am not spending a whole lot of time worrying about that. We think that we are in a spot to get out of what we’re in, so we’re just going to keep working and get out.