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Toronto Maple Leafs Kyle Clifford gives some tips to one of his three sons - Cooper - at the end of Leafs practice in Toronto on Wednesday February 19, 2020. Jack Boland/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network
Ottawa Senators head coach D.J. Smith
MONTREAL — This news hit home for D.J. Smith.
Only hours before the Ottawa Senators’ head coach stepped behind the bench for the 22nd game of his career at the Bell Centre, Smith learned that Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock had been relieved of his duties with the club in the midst of a six-game losing streak.
The 42-year-old Smith, who spent the past four years as an assistant on Babcock’s staff with the Leafs, has nothing but respect for the former Toronto coach and they’re close friends.
“He gave me my chance in the NHL, he showed me the league and he did a great job every day that he went to work,” Smith said Wednesday before facing the Habs. “It’s a tough time for him and his family, and I certainly feel for him.”
The news came as a bit of surprise because many felt Babcock had more time, but the Leafs are on the outside of the playoff picture and looking in. They don’t want to fall any further and the decision was made to put Toronto Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe behind the bench.
Smith was well aware how difficult the Toronto market can be for a coach.
“He’s a very good coach and they’ve certainly had a tough go as of late,” Smith said. “I know that Mike would keep battling and get that thing turned around in time. That’s a great organization and they’re going to make decisions for what they think.
“All I can do is be here for Mike if he calls.”
A COACH WHO WORKS HARD
Smith said Babcock has a great work ethic.
“It was valuable just to see how much he works and how much he respects the game and goes to work every day,” Smith said. “He never cheats (the game) and he never takes anything for granted, and he lets you know that. It certainly helped me in my journey getting here.”
Across the hall, Habs coach Claude Julien, who has had the chance work with Babcock at the Olympics and the World Cup, noted he won’t be out of work long.
“Everybody knows here Mike Babcock’s a good coach. He’s won everywhere he’s gone and at all levels as well, whether it was junior, the Olympics and pro level,” Julien said. “As far as I’m concerned, if he wants to work again tomorrow he’s got a pretty good chance of getting back to work. That’s how anyone that knows Mike feels about him.
“Having said that, we’ve had the opportunity to work together with other coaches at the Olympics and world championships, and no matter what we understand when we sign on that we’re in a tough business and a lot of times you can get the finger pointed at you for things you can’t control. At the end of the day, it is what it is.
“It’s important for us not to lose our confidence and move on. One thing I know is Mike’s not going to lose his confidence. He’s won everywhere he’s gone. It’s a glitch in a situation — they decided he was the fall guy — and he’s going to move on. As coaches we know how tough it is, the thing that we do well, and I appreciated it when it was my time, is we support each other extremely well.”
Smith didn’t have much interaction with Keefe, but they did room together while in the minors with Hershey in the American Hockey League.
“I didn’t work a ton with Sheldon,” Smith said. “He’s a very good guy, smart hockey man, he went to the Marlies and he’s certainly proved that he’s well-deserving and he’s one of the better up-and-coming coaches. He’s done everything you can do in the American league. The players that come up under him have been very detailed and he’s done a very good job.”
THIS N’ THAT
Coming off a victory in Motown, Anders Nilsson is 5-1-0 in his past six games with a 2.15 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage. His only loss came when he allowed four goals on 19 shots before being pulled during an 8-2 loss in Carolina on Nov. 11. “I’ve had a little bit too much up and down,” Nilsson said after the win in Detroit. “I want to play more consistent than I have in the first 11 games. It’s something I’m working on and I’m working for that every day. I’m not satisfied. I still feel like, me personally, I have a lot of room for improvement and I’m working hard to get better every day. That’s my mindset.” … Tough call for Logan Brown on Tuesday in Detroit when he appeared to score his first NHL goal in the first and then had it taken away because of goalie interference. He suited up for his 14th game with Ottawa against the Habs and, unfortunately, was still looking for his first career goal going into this one. “He always makes plays,” Smith said. “There’s going to be nights where other teams are going to put their top guys out against him and his minutes will be limited a little bit but, in time, he’s going to be able to play against anybody.” … This was Ron Hainsey’s 39th career game against the Habs. He’s only nine away from 1,100 in his career and he was drafted by Montreal No. 13 overall in 2000. With a hat-tip to Chris Moore from the Senators’ public relations department for this note, Hainsey has played more games than only two other players taken that year: Scott Hartnell (1,249) and Justin Williams (1,244)
THE LAST WORDS
Los Angeles Kings scout Mark Osborne was on the scouting list at Ottawa’s game in Buffalo on Saturday, Detroit on Tuesday and Montreal. The two teams don’t play again until mid-March.
ALSO IN THE NEWS
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