Matthews piled up six goals and 10 points in his first six games, including a historic four-goal outing in his NHL debut. The 19-year-old Matthews was still tied for second Tuesday among all rookies in scoring (12 points), four points behind Patrik Laine.
But Matthews has no goals and two assists in the past nine games, and Babcock is using video of Crosby and Zetterberg to do some tweaking with his young star.
In one-on-one sessions, Babcock showed Matthews how Zetterberg, the long-time Red Wings star, gets the puck back just by standing in the right places defensively. He showed Matthews how when Crosby got the puck, he lured the defense out of position and then didn’t hesitate to make a play.
Babcock has seen subtle adjustments from Matthews over the past couple weeks, particularly in the faceoff circle. The Arizona native won 43 percent of the draws in the opening five games, 53 percent in the following five and 61 percent in the last five.
“What he’s telling you already is he likes having the puck,” Babcock said. “He’s sick and tired of chasing it already. So then the next thing he’s going to figure out if he stops in the right places on defense and puts his stick in the right place, the offensive players are going to keep giving it back to him and then his skill-set is going to come out.
“But the hardest part for a kid when you come in the National Hockey League is you never get the puck.”
Matthews said he believes he’s grown stronger defensively in recent weeks. He also leads Toronto with 58 shots, though he last scored Oct. 25 against Tampa, a string of nine games.
“In our situation we need him to be a dominant, dominant center for us,” Babcock said. “We think he’s going to be by Christmas time. We think he’s a very good player already. But we think he can be lights out both with and without the puck.”