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Nikita Zaitsev definitely not in Game 2 and other practice tidbits

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Friday was practice day for the Leafs, and Mike Babcock and Nazem Kadri had a lot to say after.

Detroit Red Wings v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Mike Babcock met with the press after practice on Friday, and he had some thoughts on game one, Nazem Kadri, and he reported on the state of Nikita Zaitsev.

Babcock started out talking about Morgan Rielly. He thinks he was good, and he doesn’t stint on explaining why.

Next, he moved on to the game itself, and he said something interesting. He said that after he watched the game, he thought the team could have been better. He has mentioned this before, that he watches the video of the game right away and sometimes changes his mind about things.

This leads into an idea expressed by all the players—they often seem to sing from a single hymn book—that they can and will be better in game two. He also talked about getting the puck to the paint, and said they passed up opportunities in game one to just shoot the puck. I think that’s true.

In this heatmap for the shots in the game, you can see the intensity of the red blob in the slot where Washington was getting a lot of shots. This was particularly true in the third period. The other red blob is, of course, Ovechkin’s office.

The Leafs meanwhile have a fairly respectable blue blob, but it’s not as big or intense and they were shooting a lot from angles that weren’t going to get goals. They got pucks on net, so that is good, but they were also shoved to the outside before they did it much of the time, whereas the Capitals were just shooting a lot from just inside the blue line.

This was a very close game until the third period in which the Capitals dominated in shots. The overall scoring chances were even, with the Leafs making up for the lower concentration of shots right in front of the net with a good amount in the general surrounding area.

Babcock’s next topic was Nazem Kadri. There is a generally accepted opinion by a lot of fans that Kadri has always been a good player who just was not appreciated, that he hasn’t changed at all, but only the usage of his coach has. Babcock seems to dispute that view. He says:

He’s just a different person.

You know, I played against Toronto lots, obviously, and nothing against Naz but we never concerned ourselves too much with Naz. But Naz now is a guy who can play real well with out [the puck] and he’s nasty, so that helps him be as good a player as he is.

This is somewhat mirrored in what he says about Rielly later on :

If you arrive in this league and you play with Chara and he says you stand there and you pass to this guy and this is what you do and you sit next to him in you stall, that’s a different growth opportunity, and it can be way quicker for you. When you don’t, you learn more on your own.

He essentially says, as the questioner did, that Rielly is in the same class as the actual rookies, still learning the things perhaps we should ask why he never learned before.

I’ll let you listen to the rest of it yourself and decide for yourself what you think about Babcock’s latest version of his running gag about fighting with the medical staff over injured players. Also, you want to catch the bit about Nicklas Backstrom’s ass.

Now we can hear from Kadri himself on his role, the game, and how well the Backstrom line plays.

Kadri was a little more interesting this time than he often is. Usually he sounds a bit like a back-bench MP spouting the talking points of the day, but he got a little deeper into the job he is trying to do shutting down the Capitals’ top lines.

One question references Barry Trotz admitting he’d changed the matchups as the game progressed, and he did. He took Backstrom’s line away from Kadri and sicced them on Matthews. Kadri said that he had wanted to see Backstrom the whole game.

Kadri also makes a very good argument about valuing the defensive side of a player’s game, something fans, and their obsession with points stats often overlook. He does admit that shutting down a line like the Capitals’ top trio over a playoff series is a different level of tough job from doing it for one game.

He gets going at the end, giving a rundown of how he felt they’d played, and he’s interesting to listen to when he gets on a roll. (And yes, his beard game is A1.)