BROSSARD, Quebec -- P.K. Subban cleared a big hurdle by signing a two-year contract with the Montreal Canadiens on Monday, but he still has some work ahead of him before his two-week absence from the team can be completely erased from memory.
Teammates have been bombarded with questions about Subban ever since the season began -- actually, pretty much since he arrived in Montreal -- and most were relieved Tuesday morning that they wouldn't need to talk about the talented defenseman's contract status any longer.
Subban return only a matter of timeBy Pete Jensen - NHL.com Staff Writer
With contract negotiations finally in his rearview mirror, P.K. Subban is gearing up for his long-awaited return to the Montreal Canadiens' lineup -- something that brings music to the ears of his fantasy owners.
And remember, this isn't just any young defenseman with fantasy potential. After scoring 14 goals as a rookie in 2010-11, Subban still provided his owners with rare category coverage despite falling into a so-called "sophomore slump" when the Habs missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs a season ago.
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"It's good that it's over and done with and it's settled," said Josh Gorges, Subban's defense partner last season and a likely candidate to be paired with him again this season. "We don't have to have these talks in the morning, what if this, what if that. It's over and we can focus on playing hockey."
The Canadiens have been playing pretty good hockey in Subban's absence, with a 3-1-0 record fueled by some of the stingiest defense in the League. The Canadiens enter Tuesday's game against the Winnipeg Jets (7:30 p.m. ET, RDS) tied for second in the NHL with 1.75 goals-allowed per game and sixth with 27.5 shots-allowed per game, so Subban's absence hasn't been particularly felt in that area.
Another department where Subban's influence often is felt is on the power play, but the Canadiens have excelled in that area as well, sitting seventh in the NHL with a 27.3-percent success rate.
Because of that success, Subban will need to try and make an effort not to rock the boat too much when he joins his teammates Wednesday in Ottawa for their morning skate prior to facing the Senators.
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said Tuesday he hadn't spoken to Subban, and that he won't until they meet in person in Ottawa on Wednesday. And the one thing Therrien said he will stress to his young defenseman above everything else is the team concept he has tried to instill since training camp began.
"It's never fun for players to not be part of a camp and it's never fun to not be there at the start of the season, so I just want to know how he feels," Therrien said. "He has no choice but to integrate himself well. … One thing I demand of my players is to be good teammates. When a group of players buys into being good teammates, then you can move forward."
The Canadiens all acknowledge that Subban's talent most definitely will help them on the ice, but many chose to adopt a wait and see approach as to how he will integrate himself into a group that underwent very few player personnel changes from last season.
Andrei Markov -- the defenseman Subban went out of his way to compliment during his conference call Monday to announce his new two-year, $5.75 million contract -- refused to talk about his return until Subban was in the dressing room.
And Gorges delivered much the same message as his coach in stressing the team concept and that one player never will be bigger than that.
"I think we'll just wait and see," Gorges said. "This is an unusual circumstance for everyone to be in. I've never been a part of it, I've never had to deal with … a guy coming in late. So I don't know. It's new to me. … We've changed some things, we have a different system put in place and it took us some time to get used to it. We're still getting used to it, we're still learning. I think he's going to need some time to work on things, to jell, all those sorts of things."
"It's good that it's over and done with and it's settled. We don't have to have these talks in the morning, what if this, what if that. It's over and we can focus on playing hockey."
-- Josh Gorges on P.K. Subban and the Habs finally reaching a new deal
Therrien would not commit to when Subban would get in the lineup, saying he wants to see where the player's conditioning is at and how quickly he can learn the new system the team plays. Though Subban said he has been on the ice daily with the Mississauga Steelheads of the Ontario Hockey League since NHL training camps opened, his timing will be an issue in the early going.
One player who has taken advantage of Subban's absence has been Raphael Diaz, who plays opposite Markov on the team's top power-play unit and shares the team scoring lead with Markov with five points.
Diaz said he can't be overly concerned about Subban's impending return and he needs to continue doing the things that have made his start to this season successful.
"The important thing is that I keep playing my game," he said. "At the end, it's going to be up to the coach. I can prepare myself for every game, give everything, and the rest is not my decision. It's every game, every power play, you have to show what you have. It's not two or three games. Every game you have to play your best and work hard to deserve being in the spot."
It sounds as though Subban, despite his track record in Montreal, will need to prove he deserves his spot as well.