Mike Babcock addressed the media after his team’s practice on Monday, discussing the injury status of Zach Hyman and John Tavares, what the return of Muzzin, Hyman and Tavares will mean for the team, and his club’s play through 15 games.
We saw you have a chat with John Tavares earlier. What was that about?
Babcock: What do you think? [laughs] That was just a, “Is he playing tomorrow or not?” Basically, he’s feeling good. He’s still got to get cleared by the medical people, but the bottom line is, in the end, you’ve got to feel good enough to play. It doesn’t matter if you’re medically cleared or not; you’ve got to feel good enough to play. That’s what we were discussing there, just so I’d have an answer. I have no answers.
You’ve mentioned wanting to put together a game you can hang your hat on as a team. Is Saturday closer to that kind of effort?
Babcock: I thought Freddy… The thing I liked best for me is that when the second goal went in — the power play goal — Freddy just said, “Enough is enough. Jump on my back boys. We’re winning here tonight.” To me, that is what leadership is about. That is why you train and that is why you work and battle each day — so you know you’re capable, and when the guys need your help, you give them your help. I thought that was the greatest thing about the game the other night.
William Nylander was saying he wasn’t proud of that game from his perspective, but in general, he feels like he has been doing some good things. What have you seen from him lately as the offense maybe hasn’t been there?
Babcock: Well, we haven’t been as good of an offensive team here in the last five. We haven’t spent enough time in the offensive zone. We haven’t shot it and got it back enough. We haven’t heavy enough. We haven’t tracked a team from behind. Any way you look at it, every night is 50-50 because of that. To have a lot of fun playing the game, the offensive zone is the fun zone. That is where you want to play.
It is not a whole lot of fun to play d-zone. I don’t think anyone wants to hang out there. We’ve spent too much time in that zone and not enough time in the offensive zone. If you’re an offensive player and that’s where you want to play, we’ve got to fix that.
Is it a big boost to get Jake Muzzin back, obviously?
Babcock: You’d like to have him playing every night. He’s a good player for us and important. We believe that our defense is going to get better and better. Basically, none of them have ever played together. Defense is a partnership that, as you get better and you talk to each other more and you learn the nuances of one another, you form a partnership that makes you both better. We are still in the early process of that.
What has Jake meant to the room since he got here?
Babcock: I think he is way more comfortable now. Initially, it’s just fitting in and getting involved. Jake is a real good man. He’s got real good confidence. He and Hyman are a lot alike that way. They’ve got real confidence in their own ability. They are men. They are doing it the right way whether I am watching them or not. They don’t need anybody watching them. They’re just going about their business and doing it right. I think he is an important leader for us that way.
Zach Hyman is saying he feels he is getting close to coming back. Do you see that on the ice from him — that hunger and that drive?
Babcock: You bet. He’s not been medically cleared, though. I think so, too. He used to have a hitch a while ago. Any time you come back and you haven’t had camp and all of that, it is going to be hard work for you. He is a top-line player for us. A very important player. I don’t know how long it is going to take him once he is back to get back to that type of form. I don’t know the answer at all. But with his drive train and his work ethic, obviously, it will be quicker than some guys.
Drew Doughty was just saying how much he relishes the opportunity to up against a guy like Auston Matthews. What did you notice from Drew when coaching him in terms of how he gears up for a tough shutdown game?
Babcock: He is gifted, obviously. A gifted, gifted player. He knows how to play with and without the puck. He can stickhandle in a phone booth. His physical attributes are elite, to say the least. He is a real good player and has been since he walked in the door. It didn’t take him any time to figure out the league. A real good player and we are going to have to get after him.
Can you identify with what Todd McLellan is going through with LA having joined a new team going through what they’re going through?
Babcock: I don’t know that… LA is a franchise that has had a lot of success. A lot of those players there have had a lot of success. That is quite a bit different than it was here. They’ve got Stanley Cup champions in that room and good, good players. I think that obviously is a real positive for him. Mac is a real good coach and has been a real good coach for a long time and will continue to be. He will do good things with that franchise as they get it going the way they want.
A bunch of your players helped make a better birthday for a kid out in Newfoundland. What do you make of that?
Babcock: Why wouldn’t they? It’s part of your job with the notoriety you’re given and the opportunity you’re given to be a good person — not just when people and cameras are watching, but be a good person all the time. When you have a chance to make someone’s life better, you should. I don’t know what we are doing for him coming up, but I’d imagine it will be fun. Obviously, when you reach out and you help anybody, it’s not just good for them but good for your soul, too. It makes you feel good about yourself and I think it is important our guys do that.