WINNIPEG – Desperate to jump-start a season that has sputtered of late for his Montreal Canadiens, coach Randy Cunneyworth took a decisive step against the Winnipeg Jets.
Cunneyworth scratched Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban, who began the night leading all Montreal defensemen in ice time with a 23:59 average. But going minus-5 over the Canadiens' past three games – all losses – cost Subban his spot in the Habs' defensive rotation against Winnipeg.
In going with seven defensemen against the Jets, Cunneyworth also sat out fourth-line center Lars Eller and inserted Yannick Weber and Alexei Emelin, both scratches in a 5-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Canadiens' previous outing.
But Subban benched for the first time season most caught the pre-game attention of fans and media in the MTS Centre.
"We have some guys that are still learning a lot of things that we need to address," Cunneyworth explained, "certain issues with his game, and I think he is one of a few that we could have taken out of the line-up. I think he's got a lot of hockey ahead of him."
Cunneyworth acknowledged that sitting Eller and Subban meant sacrificing skill but remained steadfast that the decision was the right one.
"Knowing that you take out a lot of skill when you take P.K. and Lars Eller out of the lineup, you know that there's a little bit of danger there. But with regard to the reasoning, I think we're indicating that they are struggling in areas, you have to look at those areas, I think they've got a bright future ahead of them but they have to learn to play the right way.
Although he chose to sit out a pair of youngsters, none of the veterans should consider their place sacred, according to Cunneyworth.
"They would be included for sure," Cunneyworth said when asked about his veterans' status in the shuffling. "I think everybody is part of this."