Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Monday, discussing the status of his injured players, the team’s recent hot streak, William Nylander’s play at center in Auston Matthews’ absence, Andreas Johnsson’s performance versus Montreal, and more.
On the status of the injured personnel:
Babcock: I don’t know if Freddy is ready to go. I know Auston is not ready to go. Komarov is not ready to go. Zaitsev is not ready to go.
What have you liked about your club’s resilience in the last four games since coming back from that four-game road trip?
Babcock: I think we’ve played pretty good. There have been moments where we haven’t been as good. Obviously, we’ve got 10 games left – six at home and four on the road, and we’ve got real good teams coming up. It’ll be a good test for us. Obviously, we’ve got to get better and we know that. The urgency in our play has to be better if we’re going to have success, so we’ve just got to keep getting better.
You’ve got the two best teams in the league on the road this week. You’ve got wins over both of them. Do you just have to leave that by the wayside, knowing they’re different teams earlier in the year?
Babcock: To be honest, I didn’t even know we beat them. I never thought much about that. I just know we’ve got a game tomorrow. We’re playing Tampa and we watched their game yesterday. I thought they looked like a good hockey club. We’ll get our team ready to play.
Is it any easier going through a rash of injuries like this when you are where you are in the standings?
Babcock: I never thought much about the injuries. Guys get hurt and you’ve got to play. My biggest concern is when they get back, are they ready to play? Have they done enough work? That’s what our focus has been with those guys. As far as the rest of the guys, obviously, it’s about winning games.
Have you seen William Nylander get more comfortable at center game by game?
Babcock: Yeah. I mean, I thought Willy had a good game last game. In saying that, each and every night, there is a test for you. It’s never your skill set. It’s your determination to play without the puck. It’s your puck pressure in the d-zone. It’s your ability to sort things out. Some nights, the matchups are easier than others. I can guarantee you, the next couple of nights, they won’t be easy.
You were a resilient group last year. How has that resilience changed for you this year?
Babcock: I don’t know what we are looking for here, but I think we’ve got a good hockey club and I think we’ve gotten better than we were last year because we’re deeper and a year older. We want to continue to get better. In order to play in two weeks, we’ve got to dig in. If you want to continue to play, you’ve got to play harder and better than we have this year. We all know that.
How challenging will it be for Nikita Zaitsev coming back from this kind of illness?
Babcock: Yeah, just getting in shape again and getting some jam back. He wasn’t feeling good. Obviously, it started with the flu, or we thought it was the flu, and then he didn’t recover as quick as you might expect. I don’t know how long he’s been out – 10 days – so he’s got to get skating and get working. He’s obviously a real good player. He’s got to get his weight up, too.
You said you thought it was the flu. What was it?
Babcock: I don’t know. I wouldn’t tell you if I knew anyway. How’s that?
Do you have a plan for Andreas Johnsson as far as how long you want him to stay up here or how many games you want him to get?
Babcock: I just watched him the first game and didn’t think we gave him an opportunity. The next night, he had seven shots on goal and three other attempts. He made two unbelievable plays. You go through the year – how many guys have had seven shots on net? How many guys have made that many plays in one game? You watch the game and they decide. I just watch.
March 19 Practice: Auston Matthews, Frederik Andersen, Connor Brown, Nikita Zaitsev
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