Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Thursday, discussing the team’s recent two-game slide, the stretch run, William Nylander and Auston Matthews’ play together against Chicago, Trevor Moore’s promotion with Zach Hyman out, and more.
Just how valuable is a practice like today, a rare opportunity to tighten things up and get you ready for two games in two nights coming up?
Babcock: Obviously, we had it going real good and then suddenly we’ve come off of it for two games. We didn’t like four of our last six periods at all. We thought we got our work ethic and our speed back in the second last night and were able to capitalize and feel better about ourselves in the third. We tried to focus on our details but get back to skating and skating like we can. We have to play fast in order to have success. We’ve been slow. We’ve been slow on defense, so other teams have more time on the puck. We just tried to tighten that up without being out there too long because of the amount of hockey we’ve got left.
Looking at the schedule you have this year, there are not huge losing streaks for you guys. You’ve been pretty consistent and bounced back. Has that been the message to the team at this time of year?
Babcock: I don’t think we spend any time talking about that. We just talk about the next day. We went through what we have left. We have 12 games to prepare. We’ve got to keep getting better. Our last ten-game segment, we just ended up dropping the last two games. Obviously, you don’t want to drop any games at any time. We didn’t like the way we played in four of those periods. It is just a matter of getting back on track. Every night in the NHL, you play a good team that is real hungry, and you’ve got to play well.
How much is Travis Dermott and Jake Gardiner’s ability to transport the puck missed?
Babcock: This is the way I look at this: We are here to discuss the players in the lineup, not the ones without. I don’t buy any of that. You put our uniform on, you’ve got to be able to go. Injuries are all part of sports. It doesn’t matter who is playing. We expect a lot from our group. It doesn’t matter if you’ve played three games, five games, ten games or if you’ve just got called up from the Marlies.
Did it feel like the group was ready at the start of the last two games?
Babcock: Just because I feel like they’re ready didn’t matter much. You watched just like I do. We weren’t good enough. The first night, we had no energy and we never got going at any time in the game to show any energy. We just never got it. We didn’t have it. I think that is a totally different thing. I think last night’s game, though, was one of those games where we didn’t score early and they did and it took us a while to get to the level we wanted to play at. We had every opportunity in the world and we didn’t get it done in the end. But if you don’t start on time, you don’t usually get it done.
The Flyers will be desperately trying to get back into the playoff race. Is it almost a perfect challenge for you?
Babcock: I think that was last night, too, but I think that is everyone you’re playing. I don’t think, when looking at our group, we need a lot of that, to be honest with you. We understand what is at stake for us. We understand our opportunity is here and now. Next year in sport never comes. We play in a real good division with real good teams. You’ve got to be on top of your game.
You’ve got some real good play from Garret Sparks the last few games.
Babcock: I just think just getting Sparky in the net is good for him. Obviously, he is playing one of the two games here this weekend. On the other side of that, you can say that Freddy wasn’t in the net so it gets him to freshen up, too. We need Freddy at the top of his game. We all know that. He is the backbone to our club. We’ve got to do what we can to support him.
Do you think Auston and Willy are starting to get it going together again?
Babcock: I just thought for me last night, Willy was in on the most he’s been in this year. I thought he skated real well. I thought he competed real hard. I thought he was at the net. I thought he tipped pucks. Even before they got any offense to go for them, he had to hit the post a couple of times and had been in home free. But I liked how he tracked, how he worked, and how he got to the net. That is the biggest thing.
Auston has now been going for I don’t know how long, but he’s been going. If you play with him, you’ve got another opportunity there. But you’ve also got to play good to play with him. He wants to play with good players that are playing hard and competing hard and playing 200 feet.
What did you see from Moore giving him more responsibility last night?
Babcock: I thought Mooresy, at the start of the game, it didn’t go for him in the first period. When we put him with Naz, I thought he was good. Now, Mooresy has been good. His job is normally more limited than it was, but he has been real good for us and been a worker and a forechecker and played with speed. He makes good plays with the puck and has good detail in his game. I thought in the second and third last night, he had that back.
How is Zach Hyman feeling?
Babcock: Yeah, he’s not here.
Is he out for tomorrow?
Babcock: I sure hope not.