BROSSARD, Quebec -- A day after P.K. Subban signed a two-year contract with the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 28, his teammates and coaches all went out of their way to mention how important it would be for the flamboyant young defenseman to try to fit in on a team that was off to a 3-1-0 start to the season.
Subban himself recognized he did not want to do anything to disrupt that early-season success, and from the time of his first game at home against the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 2, it was clear he was making a concerted effort not to do too much, to let the game come to him and resist the temptation to take off on the end-to-end rushes that had become his trademark and made him such a fan favorite in Montreal.
Simplifying his game and making the easy play are things two previous coaches had attempted in vain to get Subban to buy in to, but coach Michel Therrien and his staff appear to have succeeded where their predecessors failed, and the results have been impressive to behold.
Though Subban has rarely done anything very flamboyant this season, his offensive production has been off the charts to lead a Canadiens defense corps that led the NHL in goals with 17 prior to Tuesday night's games. Subban has scored more than a third of them with six -- which was tied for the League-lead among defensemen -- and he's been remarkably consistent in his production, failing to register a point in seven of his 20 games played and piling up 18 points.
"He's keeping it simple," Therrien said. "This is something that we've tried to preach to him: keep things simple, concentrate on making a good first pass. The rest was always going to take care of itself. This is what he's been focusing on the last two weeks.
"It's fun for us because we're preaching that stuff and he's getting results. So that's a good sign."
Over the Canadiens' past seven games, Subban's role has grown considerably, particularly on the power play. When defenseman Raphael Diaz was lost to a concussion on Feb. 25, practically all of the power-play time was given to Subban and Andrei Markov on the points. Over those seven games the power play has gone 7-for-30 and Subban has accounted for two goals and five assists, meaning he was in on every power-play goal the team scored.
Markov and Subban are the most productive power-play pairing in the League, with Markov's 15 power-play points leading NHL defensemen and Subban's 13 points third-best, behind the 14 points of the Philadelphia Flyers' Kimmo Timonen.
"We just try to play simple," Markov said. "He's got a very good shot, so I try to give it to him. It's nothing special. When the coach gives you the time to play on the power play it's a big responsibility, it's a chance to score a goal."
There's that word again: simple.
It is something his teammates credit for Subban's increased production and improved play this season, and it is something Subban appears to be trying to apply to his off-ice persona as well. In his first two seasons in the League, Subban readily enjoyed speaking with the media and his natural charm and charisma made him a go-to-guy for the television cameras. But this season he appears to be actively avoiding the media spotlight.
When he came off the ice after the morning skate prior to his first game of the season, Subban approached his locker at the team's practice facility and stopped dead in his tracks before he arrived as he observed the media horde that was awaiting him. Though he dutifully conducted his interviews that day, he has not been nearly as enthusiastic when it comes to speaking with the media as he was in previous years.
Again on Tuesday, Subban politely declined numerous requests for interviews.
It is something that appears to fall in line with a mentality Subban is applying to his game, one Therrien has turned into a mantra that the Canadiens have bought into fully: The team comes first.
"The difference with our team is that we know if we focus on the little things -- playing well in our own zone, keeping the game simple, keeping it in front of us, being hard on the forecheck, being assertive, being a tough team to play against -- then everything else takes care of itself," Subban told reporters after the Canadiens' 5-2 win against the Florida Panthers in Sunrise on Sunday, a game in which he had a season-high three points.
"When we're doing those things we draw power plays, and when we draw power plays we create opportunities and momentum. So I think for all the defensemen who are creating offense from the back end, we're benefiting from the way our team plays."
In the absence of Diaz, Subban has been paired with Josh Gorges in even-strength and penalty-killing situations and they have become Montreal's top defense pairing, regularly drawing the most difficult assignments and being sent out for most defensive zone faceoffs.
Gorges was Subban's partner for much of last season as well, and he said Subban's adherence to what's being asked of him is what's allowing his true potential as a player to show.
"His ability to hold off forecheckers is incomparable around the League, but when he can just do that and make that next pass and then join the rush, that's when he's at his best," Gorges said. "When he gets into open areas and he wants to do too much, I think that's when he puts himself in trouble. But lately he's been making those simple plays … and when he's keeping it simple, he's unbelievable."
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