Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Thursday, discussing Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner’s defensive play, Matthews’ leadership, the team’s heaviness, and Morgan Rielly’s status after missing practice.
This is the last back-to-back of the month with a lighter schedule going forward and the promise of players coming back. Is it a good time for your team to regroup?
Babcock: I think that is all excuses. The bottom line is we’ve got games and you’ve got to play them and you’ve got to play well. Guys have been given an opportunity. We can be better. We have to be better — individually and collectively. That all comes back to us as a group. We’d like to win every night. It is way more fun when you win every night. The meal tastes better on the plane after a good win. That’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got San Jose coming in here and we’ve got to be ready.
Auston and Mitch were both saying they need to be better defensively. What are you looking for from both those two guys as they serve as leaders on the team moving forward?
Babcock: I thought the other night was a real good opportunity for them. You’re playing against real players and you’re playing head-to-head all night long. In the end, it’s so simple — you just look at the guy across from you and you’ve got to outwill them. That is what a playoff series is about. That is when you get the number-one matchup and play against the best D. In the end, you’ve got to generate more offense than them and the way you do that normally is you are outstanding defensively. If you’re not, you spend all your time in your own zone and that gets frustrating and gets old.
I also think these are battle scars as you go through. Boston played us and they went home and would’ve said, “We’ll see what happens next time.” Like kids in the playground — same principle. That is all a part of life’s lessons.
What is your message for the team to take fewer penalties, especially with the stick infractions?
Babcock: Well, be disciplined. Put your stick on the puck. You knew the answer to that, but good question. I should’ve thought of saying it. I hadn’t thought of telling them to put your stick on the puck. The bottom line: Do you want to give other team’s power play a good opportunity? Do you want four guys up front to be playing and four on the back and everyone else to be sitting and freezing to death? Why would you do that? It makes no sense.
Andreas Johnsson was pretty frustrated about taking the two penalties the other night. Did that go with a tightening from you as well?
Babcock: No, actually, it didn’t. You know when the puck goes in the net and you’re in the box and you feel shame? It’s a pretty good tightening. Plus, the team… you’re on the road in a back-to-back night. You can’t get the other team going. It was pretty clear what was going on out there. Some of these things — I mean, you’re allowed to go to the guy and say, “I told you so,” or, “What are you doing? We’ve already had the meeting about this.” But that makes you feel good. I don’t think that was the point there. I think he’s got a pretty good handle of what’s going on.
Auston said the other night he needs to be better and the team needs to be better and the special teams group. Do you see growth in him leadership-wise? Do you like to see that from your leaders?
Babcock: I think the biggest thing you want from your leadership group is to model doing it right every day. What I want from Auston and what I want from all the guys is for them to go out and be the best player in their position that they’re capable of being. When you set the tone with your work ethic, with your detail, with your focus, with your preparation — that is leadership. That is the challenge for us. It is not easy in leadership. It is just not. The spotlight is on you more. You’ve got to relish it and enjoy it and get out and play like you can.
You’ve got a bit of a bigger team this year. Do you think you’re taking advantage of that more — not in terms of fighting, but…
Babcock: No, I don’t think in this last little bit we have been. We haven’t spent enough time in the offensive zone rolling around being heavy on pucks. We haven’t spent enough time doing that. We tried to address that here today. It is ongoing. Every time you’re playing someone, you’re addressing something because they exposed something in you, whether you won or you lost. We still think that we’ve got a long way to go in that department.
Rielly didn’t skate today. Will he be available tomorrow?
Has he been bothered by something? Has that factored into how he’s played so far?
Babcock: I asked him if he was taking another day for himself, but no… Mo is a guy who wants to practice and play and be around the guys. He is a real leader for us. He will be available.