Mike Babcock on the JVR – Bozak – Marner line: “That group is working way harder and they’re getting more results”

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock after practice

Mike Babcock met with the media after practice on Monday and discussed Auston Matthews’ injury status, JVR’s recent surge in production, the induction of Paul Kariya into the Hockey Hall of Fame, and more.

Are you able to update us on the absentees at practice?

Babcock: Bozie — maintenance day. Matthews skated with one of the guys before.


Babcock: He’s sick.

How important are weeks like this when you come through a schedule as hectic as its been?

Babcock: You’d like to space the games out more and not have these times, but the reality is we had an off day, we had a good practice today, we have another off-day tomorrow, and then we’ll get ready for New Jersey, who spanked us last time we played them. Last time, we got feeling good and we stopped working. We’ve got to make sure we keep working this time.

What does a four-game winning streak — three without Auston — do for the team’s confidence?

Babcock: I think any time you’re playing better and you’re feeling better about yourself, you’re more likely to play good. I think that’s a real positive for our group. We need to continue to get better and play with more detail. We’ve just got to keep getting better. We’ve got lots of things to work on, but I thought we had a good work day today, and I look forward to the rest of the week.

What kind of example is Leo Komarov doing everything he does in the game in practice and is as diligent in both?

Babcock: I just think he works. Marleau is the same way and Hainsey is the same way. They’re good pros leading by example. I think it’s really important for everyone else. They’re trying to make people better. When you compete hard every day, you make your teammates better. We talked about that before. When things are going real good, you want to work real hard to keep them going good, and you don’t want to let off like we dld last time.

Did Matthews get through the skate okay?

Babcock: Yeah. We’re not going to know. He’s not practicing with the team. But he skated today and he’ll skate tomorrow. He’ll practice with the team Wednesday and we’ll see if he’s ready to go or not.

Is there an update at all with what’s happening with Nikita Soshnikov and his situation?

Babcock: I don’t really know much about that. I’d imagine… no. How’s that? No.

What did you see out of the Kadri unit on Saturday against Boston on Saturday? That was a tough matchup.

Babcock: I thought they did a good job. What we basically did is we had Marleau and him and then we had four wingers. Whoever the wingers were, we just left them and played against those guys. I thought that was effective for us. In saying that, Bozak’s line was the line generating offense for us. They had a real good night as well. When you look at it, it’s a team effort, and I thought those guys did a nice job.

What have you seen from JVR over these last few games that might be different?

Babcock: We talked about that today. Sometimes a player just believes that when a puck goes in, that’s when you think you’re playing good. To me, when you’re skating and you’re working and you’re winning pucks… the guys who want the puck and want to score, you’ve got to get the puck back. If you don’t work to get the puck back, it’s hard to score. I think they all go together. Just work. If you work, you end up with the puck a lot and things go well for you. That group is working way harder and they’re getting more results.

In the 2003 Stanley Cup season, you talked about how Paul Kariya grew his game over the season and sacrificed some of his offense. What do you remember about that season and how he evolved over that year?

Babcock: Well, we lost to Lou’s team in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. I remember that. We got better each and every day, and Paul was a big part of that. Paul and Rucchin, Sandis Ozolinsh, Salei and Carney and Havelid — guys on the back that were real solid. Kariya just got better and competed harder every day. Him and Sykora played together at home and him and Rucchin played together on the road. He was an important matchup guy for us. He was a guy who generated offense and played hard for us and was a good pro. Congratulations to him, obviously, and all of the other inductees. Special player, special person. Glad to see he’s doing well.

What is your favourite Paul story?

Babcock: My favourite one I can’t tell you. I just think he’s a really good person. He tried to it right every day. One of the things about him is that when he arrived in the league he couldn’t shoot the puck at all. By the end, he had an absolute bomb. He was a guy who worked at things — went home in the summer, picked something and tried to get better. He was dialled in, to say the least. That was why he was such a good player. Any time you score a point-a-game in the NHL, you’ve really done something. Obviously, we would’ve liked him to stay in Anaheim and he chose to leave, but he was an important player in Anaheim when he was there.