Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Monday, discussing the challenge against the Blues (10-0-0 in last 10) on Tuesday night, Travis Dermott’s development, and John Tavares’ contributions as a leader in the dressing room.
The peaks and valleys that go on with NHL teams — you’re taking on a team that has been on fire since mid-December in St. Louis. Is it no surprise with the talent they’ve got to see where they’re at now?
Babcock: I don’t know if you remember the last time they played us, but they played probably their best game until recently, and they smacked us around, to be honest with you. They were way better than us. We’ve got that to go off of, and then, obviously, the record and we didn’t like our last game. I think we’ve been playing real well — maybe our best point of the year, actually — and then we had a dip here last game, so we want to get back on track as fast as we can. We always say the same thing: “Let your ups be long and your downs be short.” Let’s get on with it.
What was it specifically that wasn’t there on Saturday?
Babcock: We just weren’t good. We didn’t execute. We didn’t play fast. We weren’t physical on offense. We didn’t spend time in the offensive zone. You go through the whole thing — we weren’t good. That is going to happen sometimes. It is unfortunate. You never want it to happen, but it’s the reality. The big thing about it is to not let it happen again. Let’s get right back at it. We had a good off-day and a good little skate. Let’s go play.
How do you think John Tavares’ stoic nature helps the team navigate the ups and downs of the season?
Babcock: I don’t know if he has a stoic nature… I don’t know. This is what I know: John is a pro. He comes in every day and works hard and does it right every single day. He is a consumer of knowledge to try to get better and to improve himself. His example improves our team every day. All you’ve got to do is look at how hard he’s working and how long his shifts are, how he’s playing defensively, how he does everything, how he eats, trains, looks after himself, and you have the example. You can look to all of the other sports you want, but you have one living with you, in your dressing room who is a top player in the league and a real leader in our room. Great example.
Where do you see Travis Dermott’s game at this point in the season?
Babcock: You remember Mo? Mo was a guy who moved the puck and could skate around but was a minus all the time and hadn’t sorted it out in the d-zone. That is why it takes d-men so long in the NHL — how good you’ve got to be defensively. That is his biggest thing. When he learns how to sort out the rush, when he learns how to play in his own zone, when he learns the time on the clock and the score of the game — those are things you’d like to have happen overnight but don’t usually happen overnight.
In saying that, Dermy is a real good player for us and plays well and is important. In the overall understanding of the game without the puck, that is his biggest challenge. But he played with Ronny for a bit and he’s playing with Gards right now. I think he is taking a step in his game for sure.
Is it the older guys mentoring him?
Babcock: Absolutely. I don’t know what the real word is for it, but mentoring is a nice word for it, yeah [laughs].
Have you gotten a chance yet to see the Blues during this recent span?
Babcock: Yeah, they’re a good team. They’re playing heavy. Their goalie is playing well and moves the puck real good. They’re above the puck, checking hard, and doing things right. In the end, when you do things right, you win lots of nights in the NHL. The difference between talent from team to team, even though we all think it is great, is not very much. If you play right, you win.
How do you think Tyler Bozak has fit in as a Blue from what you’ve seen?
Babcock: I don’t know about that. You’d have to talk to Bozie. Bozie has got elite, elite hockey sense. I thought Bozie’s best year for me as a Leaf was his last year. Unbelievable on the power play, real good thinker, and way better down low in his own zone than you might think, and a real good faceoff guy.