A year ago, it was Mike Babcock and the Detroit Red Wings.
This year, it’s Mike Babcock and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
While Babcock has changed teams, taken on a new challenge, gotten a rich contract, nothing has changed for Canes coach Bill Peters. It’s special facing his friend, former coach and hockey mentor.
“It’s always good and you always want to do well,” Peters said Thursday. “Obviously we need a win and that’s what we’ll focus on, getting the two points.”
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The Leafs, who face the Canes on Friday at PNC Arena, are 6-9-4 and last in the Atlantic Division. But they’re 5-3-2 in their last 10 and coming off an impressive 5-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche.
The Leafs scored on four of five power plays — two by PA Parenteau — against the Avs and killed off all four penalties while getting 34 saves from goalie James Reimer.
“I thought their specialty teams put on a clinic,” Peters said. “He’s got the guys buying in and playing well.”
The bond between Babcock and Peters remains a strong one. Peters was an assistant coach in Detroit for three years under Babcock before getting the head job at Carolina. Babcock has named Peters as an assistant coach for Team Canada in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
“There are similarities between the two teams and the way we play, the philosophies, the fundamentals and what we believe in,” Peters said. “It will be a good game. There are a lot of similarities when you watch them play to how Detroit plays and how we try to play.
“We’ll be comfortable with what’s going on out there system-wise and then it will come down to battle level and execution.”
The Canes (6-10-2), winless in their last four, will have some reshuffled lines for the Leafs. Eric Staal, after playing left wing on a line centered by Jordan Staal, will be back in the middle.
“With Jordan in the middle and Eric in the middle I think we have real good depth at that position,” Peters said.
Eric Staal should have Chris Terry and Kris Versteeg on the wings, while Jordan Staal centers Joakim Nordstrom and Riley Nash. Victor Rask has Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm on the wings and Jay McClement will center Nathan Gerbe and Andrej Nestrasil.
Peters has looked at different defensive pairs this week and now has added Jaccob Slavin —- a callup from Charlotte who was at Thursday’s practice — and veteran free agent Tim Gleason to the mix. On Thursday, pairs included Justin Faulk with Slavin, Ron Hainsey with Brett Pesce and John-Michael Liles with Noah Hanifin.
Slavin will make his NHL debut against the Leafs, Peters said, and should play with Faulk.
Cam Ward is expected to be the starting goalie as the Canes play the fourth game in what has been a disappointing homestand.