Leafs have to get bet­ter: Bab­cock

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - COMMENT - NEIL DAVID­SON THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

TORONTO — De­spite watch­ing his team win 7-2 in Win­nipeg to kick off the sea­son, Mike Bab­cock wants im­prove­ments in Satur­day’s home opener against the New York Rangers.

The Maple Leafs coach reeled off Toronto’s eight penal­ties Wed­nes­day night against the Jets, a docket that ranged from too many men on the ice and an equip­ment vi­o­la­tion (Leo Ko­marov’s askew vi­sor) to four high-stick­ing calls.

“Stay out of the box, that will re­ally help us with goals-against and then just (a) com­mit­ment to do­ing things right,” Bab­cock’s wish list read af­ter prac­tice Fri­day. “As a group, we have been through enough. We know how to do it right, we’ve just got to do it right.”

Goal­tender Fred­erik An­der­sen helped Toronto sur­vive a rocky open­ing that saw three straight Leaf penal­ties. Then Toronto’s high-oc­tane of­fence kicked into gear.

Vet­eran winger Pa­trick Mar­leau scored his first two goals as a Leaf with sin­gles from Aus­ton Matthews, Mitch Marner, Wil­liam Ny­lan­der, James van Riems­dyk and Nazem Kadri.

The young guns now get to show­case their skills be­fore a home crowd filled with ex­pec­ta­tions af­ter a break­through 201617 sea­son that saw the Leafs (4027-15) im­prove by 29 points over the pre­vi­ous year and take the first-place Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals to six games in a tight first-round play­off se­ries.

For de­fence­man Mor­gan Rielly, the home opener is a chance to “get bet­ter de­fen­sively.”

“There are things we can im­prove on for sure,” he said. “We had a good meet­ing to­day, talked about New York and what they bring to the ta­ble so we’re go­ing to be ready.”

The Rangers lost their home opener 4-2 on Thurs­day to Colorado de­spite out­shoot­ing the Avalanche 39-26.

There was plenty of talk Fri­day about the early wave of of­fence in the league with hat tricks from Ed­mon­ton’s Con­nor McDavid, Philadel­phia’s Wayne Simmonds, Wash­ing­ton’s Alex Ovechkin and Chicago’s Bran­don Saad.

“You look around the league, there’s lots of speed and lots of skill,” said Rielly.

“I think it’s great for the league, it makes it very ex­cit­ing,” he added. But not for de­fence­men. “Not fun,” said Rielly. Matthews is lov­ing it, how­ever.

“Guys are com­ing in and they’re ready to play and they’re mak­ing an im­pact for their team,” said Matthews, who did just that last sea­son when he scored 41 goals and won rookie of the year hon­ours. “You see it on pretty much ev­ery team now, they’ve got a guy that’s pretty young, that com­ing in and he’s not just be­ing a role player, he’s play­ing a pretty big part on that team.

“For­tu­nately for us, we’ve got six or seven of those guys that can pretty much play any­where and make an im­pact ev­ery night in dif­fer­ent ways. You can see the league kind of trend­ing to some younger guys, some younger tal­ent. It’s def­i­nitely fun to be a part of.”

For the 38-year-old Mar­leau, Satur­day’s cur­tain-raiser at the Air Canada Cen­tre fol­lows 19 home open­ers in San Jose.

“I’m ex­cited,” said Mar­leau. “It’s go­ing to be a great at­mos­phere to go into. They usu­ally all are, but now it’s a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent for me with the new club and every­thing.”

Bab­cock has also seen more than his share of home open­ers and says while he still ap­pre­ci­ates them, he doesn’t need a spe­cial oc­ca­sion to re­mem­ber how ex­cit­ing hockey is.

“Hockey’s ex­cit­ing about hockey, so I don’t need any­thing to get me more fired up about it,” he said in typ­i­cal Bab­cock-ese. “In say­ing that, I think the home opener is a great thing. It’s a cel­e­bra­tion of the start of the year.

“I’m glad we played a game al­ready, so you get that un­der your belt. I thought we weren’t very good early in that game and ide­ally we’ll be bet­ter in this game. But I think it’s im­por­tant to cel­e­brate your team with your fans in your city and that’s what the open­ing night about. We have to find a well to play well.”

It looks like de­fence­man Calle Rosen and cen­tre Dominic Moore will come in Satur­day for An­dreas Borgman and Eric Fehr.

Bab­cock said he opted to play Fehr in Win­nipeg be­cause he’s from Win­kler, Man. Moore gets the nod Satur­day be­cause he once played for the Rangers.

He de­cided to al­ter­nate Borgman and Rosen the first two games be­cause “I didn’t know the dif­fer­ence be­tween the two of them.”

Fehr and Moore are vy­ing to be the team’s fourth-line cen­tre. Borgman, Rosen and Martin Mar­incin, who was loaned to the AHL Mar­lies on Fri­day, are com­pet­ing for the role of sixth de­fence­man.

Bab­cock has said all along it will take some time to set­tle on his fi­nal lineup.

“We’re go­ing to fig­ure it out,” he said.

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

Toronto took eight penal­ties in its sea­son-open­ing vic­tory over the Win­nipeg Jets, in­clud­ing one for Leo Ko­marov’s askew vi­sor.

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