Mike Babcock met with the media after his team’s practice on Monday, three days away from the series opener vs. the Boston Bruins.
How much do you like your club depth in terms of matching up against Boston and containing what that Bergeron line can do?
Babcock: Obviously, they’re a real good line and they’re a real good team. They got a lot of points in the regular season because they are a good team. Now we have another opportunity. We had one in the Spring last year and they were better than us in the end. We would like to be better than them. We’ve got a lot of room to grow as a club. We understand that.
We have a good few days here to prepare. We’ll be fresh. It was good to see Muzzin out there today. It looks like we are going to have all hands on deck, which I think is an important part as well. We look forward to it.
What kind of value does Muzzin’s experience winning the Cup at this time of year provide?
Babcock: I think Ron Hainsey as well. There are only a couple of guys in here that have got their name on it and have got their name on it for life. It is a pretty special thing. Obviously, he has been through it and understands it. Those guys are invaluable to us. It is real important that they step up at this time with their play and just doing what they’re doing, but more so with leadership and letting the guys know what is acceptable and what is unacceptable.
We did a heck of a job the other night in Bob Cole’s last game there. His daughter texted me and said, “Thanks for all the goals,” that her dad got to call. It was exciting. 15 grade-As for both teams. I haven’t seen it… Maybe in exhibition. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it. Hopefully, we got all of that out of our system and we just can get on with playing.
The message from some of the guys is that they’re not focusing on the past with the Bruins but that it does push them and motivate them. Is that the sense that you get from the guys?
Babcock: I mean, last year is last year. There is no sense in spending any time on that. They have a different team. We have a different team. Our guys are growing and they are going to get older and they are going to get better. Some of those losses in life — those little hardships — are the best things for you in life. They allow you to grow and make you grow. We’ve all experienced what it is like to lose. You don’t like the feeling.
The other thing about it, and I said it here a few days ago, is that right away eight teams go home.
Can you share what message you gave to Auston there at the end of practice?
Babcock: No, but thanks for asking. I appreciate it, man. You guys go ahead and speculate.
What is the message to him generally? Last season, obviously, he was obviously disappointed with his performance.
Babcock: I think the biggest thing is that there is going to be no room and no time and no space. The better player you are, the less there is going to be. You have to understand what the playoffs are about and what it is going to take to be successful. Our whole team has to. Early in the season, when we were fun to watch and it was racing around and there was tons of room, it is a lot of fun. Your sweater is flapping and it feels good. It’s just not real. It is just not living in the real world. The real world is coming right away here. No time. No space.
He mentioned he feels freer heading into this playoff than last season. It is more of a mindset for him. Do you get that sense from him?
Babcock: 100%. Number one, he is skating twice as good. He is more physical on offense. If you are a rush player, it is not as much fun at this time of year. Nothing much happens for you. His game has come a long way. You’ve got to remember he is just a young player in the league. You learn to play without the puck so you can have it more. You learn how to play and check it back. You learn what to do and when to do it. You just keep getting better. I mean, his best hockey is in front of him by far. In saying that, he has come a long way.
What kind of role can Nazem Kadri play in this series?
Babcock: Well, he has to be good. That is an important piece for us. That is supposed to be where we have our depth. You’ve got to outplay the guy across from you and you’ve got to be nasty while you do it and you’ve got to be real solid defensively. Those are the things for us that we need from Naz. We’ve talked about it lots. He understands what is needed.
What about the Muzzin – Zaitsev pairing?
Babcock: Just to play hard, real hard. Muzz moves the puck for them. Z competes. He closes better than anyone on our team. He has better edges and is better defensively that way than anybody else. He gives less time and space. They’re both not going to be backed off by anybody. As a pair, they seem to move the puck good enough that we are not spending a ton of time in our own zone. That is critical for us to have success.
You’ve talked about lessons learned from kind of getting smacked around in the first two games. What do you think your guys have learned about starting the series in a hostile environment and staying patient?
Babcock: I think it is real imperative. As much as we say it is a hostile environment, I haven’t seen a fan play yet. It is going to be on the ice for sure. It is going to be amongst two teams. They know what we are about and they know what we are about. Now we’ve got to go out and execute and make it happen. There is going to be moments in the game where they have momentum. Don’t do anything silly. Be patient and play. That patience that you talk about — sometimes you’ve got to go through it to figure it out and understand what it is about. Take care of the puck and play well defensively and you’re going to get all the offense you ever dreamed of.
After all the talk about how much rest Frederik Andersen might need, how do you feel he is looking heading into the playoffs?
Babcock: Obviously… We gave up 15 grade-As the other night. But what it was good for is he got a lot of rubber. I thought that was important as well. Now he’s got four days again to get ready. He should be fresh. He’s played enough to have some rhythm. Now it is like everyone else. You want to play well at this time of year. That is how we are all measured, so play well.
You have the luxury of Matthews and Tavares, they have the luxury of Bergeron and Krejci. How much do you think this series will come down to who among those stars will be able to beat the others?
Babcock: It is, but a lot of the times those guys cancel each other out and it is the rest of the guys that matter. The more depth you have, the better off you are. But there is no question I have been in a lot of playoff series where your stars had no points after the first round and hardly any after two rounds, but by the end, they were leading the team in scoring. The other guys got them through. That is what depth on a team is all about. That is the great thing about hockey: It is a team game. You need everybody. You need all 20 guys. All 20 guys are going to have to play well. That is what makes it fun.