Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Tuesday, discussing his team’s Game 3 win, Morgan Rielly and John Tavares’ big games, the play of the Jake Muzzin and Nikita Zaitsev pairing, the contributions of the fourth line, and Auston Matthews breaking through offensively.
This season, you’ve had the opportunity to manage the minutes front through the back. You look at Morgan Rielly’s ice time last night with nearly 28 minutes of play and 25 in the playoffs. Does he have the legs to go, obviously, given he was more or less playing five or six minutes less a game in the season?
Babcock: The bottom line is we try to do what we do each day to win that game. We try to manage everything over a period of time. At playoff time, the bottom line is you’ve got to be able to find a way to win that game that night. Sometimes, it is not exactly how you’ve drawn it out, but Mo is a real good skater and a young guy with tons of energy. I’m not too worried about him one bit.
Where has Tavares grown the most defensively this season?
Babcock: Just his commitment to doing it. His sort outs in his own zone. He sort outs off faceoffs. Being on the right side of the puck. His ice time is almost the same, it’s just his shifts are 10 seconds less. It is always interesting to me. We are always talking about ice time, but what I do is just look at their shifts and how many shifts they had and did they go long enough. Our game, the way it is, if you play too long, you are building up lactic acid and you can’t perform at the highest level. In order to play defense, you’ve got to be fresh. He has done a real good job of that.
Why did you feel his line and Jake Muzzin and Nikita Zaitsev were the right group to go up against Boston’s top line?
Babcock: I watched them play all winter. I watched and just saw them and thought they were good. Now, you never know. When we acquired Muzz, we didn’t know he was playing with Z. We didn’t know Gards was getting hurt. I don’t want to say by accident, but it’s worked out. They are hard guys to play against. They play hard. Muzz can really move the puck as well and Z we think closes faster than anybody on our team and makes it harder on the other team. Those guys, and then obviously each guy up front has a different skill set and they are good players who play hard.
How do you think Nylander did with the different assignment?
Babcock: I thought he was good. Actually, I am going to meet with him in a bit and show him a lot of good clips in the defensive zone. We need him to really commit defensively. It is a way different job, obviously, than being a winger. To have success, he’s got to be good without the puck.
What has the play of Frederik Andersen been showing you so far these playoffs?
Babcock: Well, I mean, we are three games in.
Is Auston practicing more freely the day after scoring a goal?
Babcock: To be honest with you, in this playoff, I don’t think he was feeling the pressure. You are a year older. You’ve been around. You know. You look around the league and you see other real high-end players with no points. That is playoff hockey, but sometimes your teammates have to buy you some time.
I believe, if he plays real well without the puck, he is going to have the puck a ton and in the end, he’ll score. I thought Johnsson made two really good plays and in the end, he got a goal and an assist out of those plays and obviously, he was good for our power play. Our power play hadn’t been dangerous in the last two games and then suddenly was really dangerous last night. That gives you energy. Anyone who is a scorer wants to score and feel good. I’d imagine he feels lighter, but in the same way, I think he’s grown and it is not bugging him anyway.
What is your reaction to Kadri’s suspension for the rest of the series?
Babcock: I said it yesterday — to me, it is just like an injured player. He is not available. The rest of us are moving on here and ideally, we will play well enough and Naz will join us again.
You’ve coached a number of elite defensemen over the course of your career who play 28, 30 minutes game, and you look at it at the end of the night and it is hard to believe they were out there for 30 because they manage the game so well. Does Morgan possess some of those similar skill sets that allow him to handle that type of workload?
Babcock: Obviously, his skating is a big part of that. No one glided any better than Nik Lidstrom or played any simpler. Plus, he didn’t race around the rink. Morgan does more of that racing around the rink, so he probably puts more miles on himself that way. But he is a real good player. In the time I’ve been here — the four years I’ve been here — he has really matured. Partly it’s just his age and his miles in the league and all of that, but playing with Ron Hainsey, he has really come into his own. He is a big-time leader for us. We need him to play well and he’s playing well.
What did you like about the rhythm that your fourth line brought to the game last night?
Babcock: I thought they played good. They spent time in the offensive zone. They were very physical. They were on top of the goalie. They checked the puck back and they didn’t give up a whole bunch against. To me, that just buys your other guys time to be fresher and to be harder.