Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Wednesday, discussing the challenge ahead against Tampa Bay, William Nylander’s impressive start to the season, Patrick Marleau signing in San Jose, the team’s third line, and more.
How good of a hockey league is this that you go from St. Louis one night to what you are going to see tomorrow night and how you guys match up against this challenge?
Babcock: It’ll be good. I really liked our St. Louis game. I thought we played well. I thought we did a ton of good things. You’ve got to win in the end. Bottom line is that’s what the good teams do — they just hang around and hang around and find a way to win. We didn’t, so we’ve got to take a lesson from that, but there were lots of good things in that game. I’ve liked three of our four games. I didn’t like our Montreal game. Now we’ve got to get ready for a good Tampa team. It should be a lot of fun. We usually have good games against Tampa.
It’s early in the season, but do you see a hungrier player in William so far?
Babcock: We’re talking about hunger? Like, he wasn’t here. It was hard to be hungry. How’s that? When you get here and the league is going 900 and you’re going 20, she’s tough. I just think that Willy last game won a bunch of races and a bunch of battles. When he wins races and wins battles, he has the puck. Sometimes you have the puck because other guys get it to you, but if you want to have the puck all the time, you can count on your teammates a bit, but you’ve got to count on yourself. The more he goes to get it with his speed, his tenacity, his stick lifts and with his contact in those traffic areas, the more he is going to have the puck and the more dynamic he’ll be.
Are you going to keep Spezza and Petan in the lineup here?
Babcock: Whatever we did last game, that’s what we’re doing this game.
What did you see that you are breaking the rotation?
Babcock: They’ve had two apiece. We gave everybody a real… One of the reasons we play eight exhibition games — the NHL guys are playing four — is that it gives us a real fair chance to evaluate everyone else. Any way you look at it, guys have had quite a bit. Not only do we want to be right, we want to give the guys a fair chance. We think we’ve done that. That doesn’t mean it’ll be the same next game, but that is what we’re doing.
What was your reaction to the San Jose Sharks bringing back Patrick Marleau?
Babcock: Yeah, it was good. I texted him back and forth last night. Firstly, it’s what he wanted and it was what was best for his family. That’s what he wanted when the season was ended. I’m glad it has all worked out for him. It probably took longer than he wanted, but he said his wife and kids were really happy. As we all know — anybody who has a wife and kids — that’s a real important thing. Patty wants to keep playing past this year as well, so we wish him luck.
When he went unsigned in the summer, did you guys maybe want to try to bring him back?
Babcock: We were in no position — if you remember what was going on through the summer — to sign anybody. We never got into any of that. Obviously, he didn’t want to play here. He wanted to play in San Jose, where his family is going back to. That took us out of that mix.
When you look back at his time here, what is kind of the big overarching takeaway from it?
Babcock: Well, John Tavares came here. Everyone can speculate on why guys come, but when you’ve got people to come from other organizations like Patty did, that starts it. And then you move on from there. To me, that was a big part of it.
I thought he really helped out our young guys. He gave us a real good pro — an example of how to eat, how to workout, how to train, how to practice so we could get on the process of changing the culture.
As time goes on and you get more and more guys, and your own guys grow up, it is probably not as important, but it sure was off the start. When Tavares is looking for someone to phone to find out whether he should come here or not, and you’ve got Patrick Marleau to phone, it’s a pretty good guy to phone.
Is it passion that makes players so effective at the age of 40, going into a third decade at this point?
Babcock: Well, they’re genetic freaks, too. Let’s not kid ourselves. You look around the world and the average 40-year-old isn’t playing in the NHL. In saying that, you’ve got to love the game and your family has got to be committed to you loving the game. When you’re a pro athlete, it is a lot about you. They’ve got to make that commitment with you. Obviously, they’ve all decided this is a good thing for Patty. He is a good player.
The lineup against Tampa isn’t necessarily the lineup going forward, but are you looking forward to Rasmus building with one guy and building a partnership that works for you?
Babcock: I don’t think that has anything to do with his play, to be honest with you. I think that he is getting to play with good players. I just think for him, the more minutes he earns, the better opportunity is for him. Get comfortable with the size of the players. There will be a lot to handle there tomorrow — no different than the game against St. Louis. But it’s like anything. It comes on an as-earned basis.
You’ve said that you’ve kind of tested him in a lot of ways. That third period against St. Louis, he played more than he has earlier in the season.
Babcock: Hak is running the backend. No different than Smitty did it, if the coach is comfortable, you get out there. If he is uncomfortable, you don’t get out there. It’s that simple. There is a confidence when they’re watching and they feel… If you make good plays, you keep going out. If he starts getting nervous, you don’t go out as much. That’s just how simple it is.
The chemistry on the Kerfoot line — has that exceed expectations?
Babcock: No, I expected Kerf to be a real good player and Mikheyev to be a real good player. I think Mooresy has done a good job. We need them to be consistent every single night. That is what we are asking gout of them. I thought they did a real good job in the Montreal game. They weren’t quite as good in the St. Louis game, but the matchups were different, too.