Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Thursday, discussing the addition of Jake Muzzin to the lineup and how he’s going to arrange the defense pairs with five left-handed shots on the blue line.
Babcock implies later in the interview that he prefers the more skilled player (Morgan Rielly) on his strong side where he can make plays on his forehand, but that starting a new player off on a new team where he’s comfortable — meaning, Jake Muzzin on the left — makes sense to start with.
How important is it to have 33 games to get Jake into the lineup and get him integrated as you move towards the warmer weather?
Babcock: For sure, it helps a lot. Muzz is a big, steady, smart guy who has not got a lot of flash to his game but just does things right and is really going to help our team. Is there an adjustment period? I said to him, “Have you ever been traded?” He said, “Not even in junior.” So that, obviously, is an eye-opener.
The good thing for him and his wife is they are from the area and they can come home to family and we can do everything we can to help them out. But it’s still always an adjustment period. But he is a good pro and a good man and he’ll figure it out.
What do you like about how he fits with Morgan and how Morgan might fare on his off side?
Babcock: I just think it gives us two things: 1) It gives us a chance for Ron Hainsey to really help Dermy and help him with his defensive game like he did to Morgan, to talk to him and get him to be in the right spots. I think that is real positive as well. Muzz will play wherever it is going to suit him best. We are just going to watch over time and sort all of that out.
These great plans are always wonderful, but until you get him… You know, he is a steady guy. Knows how to play. Good stick. Heavy shot. Moves the puck. Simple. No flash. Anybody who is expecting any flash is looking for the wrong guy. Just steady as she goes, but I think he can really help us. With the size of him, between the whistles, he plays heavy and he plays hard.
What does it mean for him to have that playoff, championship experience?
Babcock: Suddenly now, we’ve got Ron Hainsey who has got his name on the Cup and then Muzz has his name on the Cup twice. I think that’s a real positive thing. They’ve been there. They’re a little more steady on the rudder and don’t get as excited. They know how to be a good pro. When I’ve talked to Darryl [Sutter] or John [Stevens] about how he went about his business — or even Dion Phaneuf about it — they all raved about him. I think that is a real positive sign, too. When you are a good pro, people know you are a good pro and you can bring that right here. We’ve got some good pros here leading already, so he’ll fit right into the group.
Does it complicate your job having five left-hand shots in your top six D now?
Babcock: It’s interesting. I was watching Pittsburgh last night and that’s what they dress. They had Letang and the five left shots. The bottom line is, the way the game is played now, it is way tighter and it is way harder. You can’t go rink-wide on your backhand. You rim it to the bottom versus getting a shot on net in the o-zone. Lots of things. There is no question about it that it’s not perfect. It is what we got. It is what was available and we’re going to make it work.
Is there more required in the next four weeks to give you every chance of contending in this Conference?
Babcock: The greatest thing about that is that it’s a conversation Kyle and I will have on a regular basis like we’ve been having since forever since he took over the job. We’ll leave that up to you guys to speculate. I think that is more entertainment anyway, isn’t it?
It was a long break. How did they look to you today?
Babcock: They looked alright, you know? They probably got their entertainment out early and then had some time to… They’re smart guys, too, and they know what is going on. They also know that we want to get on a bit of a run here. We won two of our last four games against good teams but haven’t had the kind of consistency we’d like to have. We’d like to get some consistency in our game.
Are Johnsson and Gardiner back tomorrow, do you figure?
Babcock: We’ll see in the morning, but I’ve been told they’re feeling good.
What do you like about Muzzin on the second power play unit?
Babcock: I don’t even know if I do. That’s what we did here today. Maybe to start, he might just penalty kill and play a regular shift until we get him as comfortable as we can be. I don’t know the answer to that, but why not try it here today? We’ll see in the morning skate. We’re going to skate again tomorrow and just try to get up to speed, and then we’ll make that decision tomorrow.
With Morgan having the breakout year he is having, is it disrupted if he has to change sides?
Babcock: It is a great question. There was a guy, I think he won seven Norris [trophies], named Nik. He always would say to me, “Why wouldn’t you put the guy who makes all the plays on his forehand?” It’s a great question.
In other words, do you wrestle with that?
Babcock: We can wrestle with everything we want, but I think the number one thing to do is to get your new people feeling good. If you want to make any changes or do anything different, do it after they’re getting feeling good and they’re comfortable and they know what is going on.
Did you ever put Lidstrom on the offside?