Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Monday, discussing the return of Travis Dermott tomorrow versus Washington, the lighter schedule ahead, Tyson Barrie’s power-play time, the adversity early in the season, and more.
Morgan Rielly is playing a lot in games, but is there any concern with what’s happening with three practices missed?
What can Travis Dermott bring?
Babcock: This is what Dermy can do: He’s got unbelievable edges and he can pass the puck. He is still a kid sorting it out in his own zone and figuring out how to play. He has been injured quite a bit, so that takes more time. The other thing is: We’ve seen guys jump into the regular season when they haven’t been here and how it usually goes. He knows that. We talked about that today.
He’s got to play without the puck. The number one job for a d-man is to keep it out of your net. That is going to be the challenge for him. You also don’t want to be careful with him; you want to get him in. He’s a good player.
Jake Muzzin is averaging 30.3 shifts per game. What are you as a coaching staff seeing in him that makes him so valuable to your lineup?
Babcock: In back-to-backs, we’ve probably overplayed him, to be honest with you. That is not good on our part. But obviously, the coach is comfortable with him and likes him. Muzz is a real team leader. He cares about winning. He is the only guy on our team that has lifted the Cup. He understands what it takes. He competes hard. We enjoy him as a teammate. He’s a guy who plays hard.
Tyson Barrie is adapting to not being on that top power-play unit. You had two great options with Morgan, but why did you ultimately stick with him as the quarterback on the top power-play unit?
Babcock: We just did the math and said Mo is a 70-point guy. Mo is one of the best players in hockey. I am not trying to take anything away from anybody else. That is just the situation.
Now, the way we’ve been injury-wise this year, we haven’t had two units like we’d like to have. We’d like to have one group that goes out there for a 1:10 or whatever and the other group comes in and shoots it in the net anyway. That hasn’t been the case just because of four lineup, but in time, that’ll turn its way around.
The number of points that defensemen have put up this year — is that a product of coaches giving the green light?
Babcock: They’ve always got the green light, but if you watched us the other night, they had the green light, alright…
We want our guys on offense. We want our guys to understand the game and when and why and how, but you can’t give away free goals. The only points that matter in the game are the two the team gets, not any of the individual stuff. Sometimes, when we get carried away like we did the other night, we pay for it. There is a fine line here. Yet, the last number of years, I think we’ve generated quite a bit from the back. We hope to do the same.
Kasperi Kapanen has said with Nazem Kadri gone this year, he’s tried to up his emotional input into every game. Did you lose something with Naz there? Do guys have to step into that pest or edgy role?
Babcock: I think Kerf is doing that more… I don’t think there is any issue that way. The more energy you have as a group — I think when you first get a group together and they haven’t been together and everyone isn’t comfortable, you don’t have the same kind of looseness and energy you have when you’ve built over time. To me, that is the process we’re in now.
You talk about the process a lot. Where would you gauge where this team is in the process of where you want to see them go?
Babcock: This is a great week for us. This is the first time we’ve had a regular week. There has been a lot of hockey. I think we played 12 in 23, five in eight, and four back-to-backs. You can say whatever you want — that is a lot of hockey for any human being. We should be fresher and better and it should show in our play coming up here.
I am not trying to make excuses for us. That is not what I do. I just think it can really help us get better. Obviously, getting Dermy back is a help as well. With a more balanced schedule, we should be able to play harder. I think we can play harder. We need more out of our guys and we can get more.
Jon Cooper said with his team last year, they didn’t really go through much adversity. It was always kind of easy for them at times. Is there something to be said about learning about your team in October early on?
Babcock: I think the adversity is outstanding, but I always want it when we are not going through it. When we are in it, I never want it. That’s like everybody in life, even though you know it is going to make you better — that is the logical thing to say and it’s great after an off-day where you’ve watched the clips night before and are starting to get feeling better again. It’s great. But you also want to be rolling along.
The league is tough. It is tough every night when you’ve got everything going well. I think it’s a process there, but I like the process. I like what our young players have to go through to be dominant players in the league. The league is not easy. When you want to be a good player, it is hard for you. I think that is a challenge for all of our young guys.
What have you seen with the Capitals from the last time you played them and the video you’ve done on them?
Babcock: Well, they’re good. They’re big. They’re heavy. They’re talented. Their power play is good. They’ve got good depth. Their centers down the middle there — they’re good there. I like their team. In saying that, last time we played them, we kind of had a start of the second period where it was the same things I talked about — gifts. You can’t give gifts to a good team. You’ve got to play real patient and play well without it and you’re going to get your chances.
Like I said, we are going to have good energy tomorrow. We have a good opportunity. We are looking forward to playing them and getting on a bit of a roll here.