Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Monday in Las Vegas, discussing the challenge ahead to get the team out of the slump, the call-up of Pierre Engvall, and the fan criticisms of his job this season.
The opportunity to tweak a 23-man roster… Was moving parts no the blue line a good place to start?
Babcock: Obviously, what we are doing isn’t going good enough. We want to give everyone a reset there and help ourselves. They are all going to play a little bit more with everyone on o-zone faceoffs and that. We are just going to try to find a way to maximize the group. We don’t feel we are doing a good enough job that way, so we’ve got to do a better job in that area.
As a group of forwards, we’ve got to do a better job of looking after our D. That is kind of the message here. We’ve got to clean this area of our game up for sure. We are not getting the transition we are used to getting over the last few years, so we’ve got to do a better job in the offensive zone being organized coming out so that we can get some transition going like we used to. That is a priority for us that will allow our skill to come out.
Is it an issue of commitment defensively?
Babcock: We’ve got to do a better job. One of the biggest issues for us, without any question, is when you play with the puck, you’ve got to be organized cooming out of the offensive zone. You’ve got to be organized in the neutral zone. If you turn it over and you’re in bad spots, you’re not organized and it makes your D not look very good. We’ve got to do a better job in that area.
There are lots of nights where I thought we played well. When I come here and if we haven’t won and we haven’t played well, I’ll tell you. The last game just wasn’t good enough for our hockey club in any way. We’ve got to be better.
The other thing about it is: The standings are what the standings are. We’ve got to get a reset and get going in the other direction as fast as we possibly can. We’ve talked about that — the commitment we need to make to one another and our sweater to doing things right.
Is bringing in Pierre Engvall a part of that reset for tomorrow night?
Babcock: The biggest thing with Engvall and any of the players we’ve brought up, what we’ve tried to do is let them be over-ripe. On the summer napkins, Engvall was on the napkin. When camp was over, he wasn’t on the napkin. Timashov wasn’t on and was. If you just watch them, when are they ready? When have they dominated enough that they come up and they have confidence?
Pierre and I just talked about that. It is not when I think he is ready. It is when he thinks he is ready — when he gets out on the ice and he feels confident enough to play and do what he does. There are a few simple things that we walked through that he’s got to do to be successful. He is a big body. He can really skate. He is having success. It would make us a bigger, faster team. We would like to have him, but he has to be ready for us to have him.
Thommie Bergman said two seasons ago, “This guy has to work on his play without the puck.” Have you liked his strides in the last couple of years?
Babcock: That is a huge priority. He played with Goat not last playoff season but the playoff season before. They played really well with and without the puck. They did a real good job. We talked about that again here just now. The thing about the AHL — you can turn it over, and they don’t score. You can not be in the right spots and they don’t score. In the NHL, if you do that, they score. That is the bottom line. You are not allowed as many mistakes because the shooters are that much different.
Obviously, he has been around here for a number fo years. He knows what is expected. How he feels and the swagger he walks in with now compared to what he used to have is night and day different. That leads us to think he is ready.
Some teams still are still worried about turning their players loose in a city like this (Vegas).
Babcock: I am worried about that all the time, but what do you do? I don’t think you put them in jail. They’re men. This is a great city. Nashville is a great city. There are a whole bunch of good cities. We’ve got a game tomorrow and we’ve got to be all in tomorrow. We know that.
Vegas played very, very well last night. They’ve got a deep team on the front and the back. They’ve got good goaltending. They are going to be a challenge for us. We know that. We all understand that.
Would it be easy to crack the whip after a loss like Saturday night? What tone do you set? How can the coaching staff help get the team out of this?
Babcock: The big thing for us is we’ve got to do our part. John Tavares had a good meeting with me. Morgan Rielly had a good meeting with me. They came to see me without me going to see them, which I really appreciated. To me, that is an important part. The leadership group is a huge part of it, and the message to all of us.
When you look at us as a group, not one guy is happy. The coaching staff is not happy. We are not doing a good enough job. We don’t need anyone to tell us that. We’re big boys and we just look around and watch how we play. We’ve got to do a better job.
I’ve said this a number of times and say it year after year: You’re in it together. Your safe haven is your dressing room. Your safe haven is being together. Your safe haven is the game. That is what it is all about. You are fortunate in your life if you are involved in team sports because you don’t have to look for friends. You earn friends on the team. But part of knowing each other good as we’ve gotten to know each other better is making each other more accountable. That is our job.
The talk about your job on the outside — is it difficult for you to keep those sorts of things at bay?
Babcock: Not really. I am in a pretty good spot in my life. My kids are grown. If my kids were young, I’d never coach in Toronto. In my spot, I don’t spend a whole lot of time listening, but I do get text messages from people that are friends of yours. They’re sending you texts. They care about you. I am going to do it as hard as I can as long as I can. I’ve always bet on Mike Babcock. I’ll continue to bet on Mike Babcock.