Toronto Maple Leafs' Mike Babcock after practice
Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock

Mike Babcock addressed the media on Thursday, discussing the team meeting held instead of practice, Tyson Barrie’s early struggles, the special teams issues, and the positives through 20 games.


Three games, four nights — was today a good day not to be on the ice, to meet and reflect for the next two?

Babcock: Yeah, I am not 100% sure when you do this if it’s the right thing to have done. We just analyzed — we had to spend time on our first 20 games and what we liked and what we didn’t like, and identify areas we can improve and how to improve. That is what we did here today. We felt we wanted to spend some time on specialty teams and it was important to be fresh when we did that. We will do that in the morning. We need to take a step in that area.

We need to take a step in a number of areas. In the end, if we get six points every segment, you’re laughing. In three of the segments, we got five. We are two points shy, but in three of the segments, we didn’t get what we wanted. What part is it? Is it the faceoff circle? Is it the ability to sort it out on the rush? Is it our d-zone play? Is it our power play? Is it our penalty kill? What parts turn the game each night? That is what we are trying to identify and let the guys know.

Morgan Rielly was talking about trying to get the swagger back. As a coaching staff, how can you help the guys get back to that?

Babcock: Well, the biggest thing is: When you leave the rink each night and when your team has won and you’ve played well, you feel really good. When you are disappointed and you don’t like how you played, you don’t feel as good. A big part of that is sticking to the process longer and doing it right and we’ll be rewarded.

That’s a good question. That’s what we went through here today — identified our game. Last night was a perfect example. When they scored their first goal, we had the puck the whole time. They scored a goal and boom, the next thing you know, it’s two. And then the second period started and we own it. They don’t have it. They get the puck and shoot it in our net. The next few shifts — again, we didn’t handle it.

To me, to say we weren’t prepared or didn’t play well — that’s not true. But when it went bad, what did we do? The whole game is mistakes. It goes bad regularly, but how do you pick each other up? How do you handle it? How do you get back on track quickly and handle that? We spoke about that as well.

Are you guys any closer to finding the identity you spoke about earlier in the season?

Babcock: For sure, just because you know each other better. Even our dialogue today is much more honest because we know each other better. I think that is a positive step. The bottom line is, until you do it, no one believes it. I can sit here and tell you anything, but you’re in the show-me state kind of thing. I am like that, too. I want to see it happen day in and day out so we just know.

I think the biggest thing is, in this game, you don’t want to hope. You want to know. You want to know and you want to bet on your execution and that the guys are doing it right all the time so it is looked after. That’s a bad answer to your question.

A few words on the Bruins and what they bring?

Babcock: They’re a good team with veteran experience and good pieces. A good, deep team. Real solid goaltending. Good specialty teams. It is always fun for us to play them. We’ve had a lot of good games against them. It will be an important game for us. It is our last game at home in a long time from what I saw, so it is an important game for us.

The other thing about it is we were just on a real good pace and suddenly we’ve dropped three. Any way you look at it, your next game is important. You want to get feeling good about yourself.

You mentioned there are so many good things from the first 20 games. What are those and how can you grow on those?

Babcock: A lot of them are just getting to know the players we’ve acquired. Lots of changes obviously happened in the offseason, so it’s getting to know those guys. Kerf is a way better player than I expected. Mikheyev is a good player. The last little bit, it’s evidence he hasn’t played the amount of hockey you play in the NHL, but he’s a real good player. The play of Justin Holl has been really good for us — really steady. Every night he’s been good. That’s been solid. That has been real positive for us.

Just getting Hyman back last night — suddenly Tavares spent the whole night in the offensive zone, which was really good for us. There were a number of positives. I think the play of Matthews — to be honest, his last five games, and you guys evaluate more on scoring than I do, I think there might be one game where it hasn’t been that, but the way he’s skated and played with and without it, how much he’s had the puck, and the kind of leadership he’s shown is real positive for us.

There are a number of positive things. I’ll say this to you: Our goal is to have 24 points. We’ve got 22. Keep on keeping on. She’s a grind. Now, I’d like to have 26 because I am greedy, but let’s get back on track. Let’s get going.

There seems like there is no panic, then.

Babcock: No, there is confidence in our room, but there is also — we can be better. We think we are better individually and should be better collectively. We think we can be better. Just talking about it, though, isn’t it. You’ve got to show it, and you show it by doing it each and every night, and you show it by taking ownership as a coach and as a player. When you go on the power play, ownership of that specialty team. On the penalty kill, “on my watch, it’s going to go good.” All of those things are so important.

A guy like Tyson Barrie hasn’t had the first 20 games he expected and he has said to us he’s lost that confidence now. What do you to get that back?

Babcock: He and I have talked a lot about that. Number one, Barrs is all in all the time. He is a competitive guy. He wants to be good. His game is about instincts. What I mean by that is his hockey sense is elite, so he’s got to play loose and driving and jumping.

Losing confidence — confidence in the NHL is a tough thing. It comes and goes, but he knows he is a good player. He knows he is an important piece here. We want him to be a good player. He wants to be a good player. I am betting on him just because of his past and how competitive he is. Now he’s dealing with a little adversity. Right now, when you are in the adversity — just like me and the rest of the team — you don’t like. Let’s work and get out of it and get on our way. But it’s usually good for you.

Matthews was saying there is some overthinking happening on the power play. When you are struggling, is there a risk of over-analyzing things?

Babcock: We talked a ton about that today, too. We’ve got a simple plan. The plan is great to know the structure and all of that, but in the end, you’re jumping on the ice each night against four penalty killers and a lot of those guys are in the league because they penalty kill. They win faceoffs and penalty kill. That’s how they feed their kids. That is how hard they are working. That’s how they are getting prepared.

That has got to be our approach going over the boards: “Everything is fine here. We’re going out. Let’s go. Let’s own this two minutes. Let’s dominate these two minutes.” Some nights, it’s not going to go in, but when you have a real good power play and you don’t dominate and you don’t score, you are still sending a message to the rest of the guys on the bench, “Everything is good here. Let’s go.” It’s when it’s not like that…

The overthinking… Let’s play hard. We’ll fix it tomorrow.