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Number cruncher: Superlative Subban

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
MONTREAL – There is little doubt that reigning Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban plays a particularly daring brand of hockey. Whether is it by jumping into a rush, taking a one-timer from the point or pivoting to protect the puck from an oncoming forechecker, everything the blueliner does is done with power and flair. Looking at the underlying numbers, however, one can quick understand that not only is the 24 year old’s daredevil approach to the game is entertaining, but also exceptionally effective at both ends of the rink.

Driving the play

As a 24 year-old defenseman playing in his fifth professional season, P.K. Subban is already considered one of the best players in his position on the planet and the key to the Canadiens’ ongoing success. So far this season, he leads his team in assists, even-strength time on ice and total points scored despite playing in a role not exactly conducive to padding one’s stats. Indeed, not only does coach Michel Therrien rely on Subban to produce offensively, but the Habs’ bench boss has also been adamant about sending the Toronto native onto the ice to shut down the best opposing forwards on a nightly basis.

Even though he is playing even-strength minutes by the boatload against the likes of John Tavares, Bobby Ryan, Phil Kessel and Steven Stamkos, P.K. Subban remains one of the most prolific offensive threats on his team. For every 60 five-on-five minutes he is on the ice, Subban will see his team score 2.33 goals. The only other current Hab with a better rate is Daniel Briere, who has averaged 2.37 goals per 60 minutes of five-on-five play while playing less often than Subban and often against the opposing team’s third line.

Pillar of strength

Part of the Canadian contingent heading to the Sochi Olympics in early February, Subban is an even bigger part of his NHL team’s offense than the other cream-of-the-crop defensemen he’ll be competing with or against at the Winter Games.

Through 46 games in the 2013-14 season, Subban was on the ice for more than six out of every ten goals scored by the Habs, more than ten percent better than any other elite rearguard, despite logging less icetime per game than former Norris winners Erik Karlsson and Duncan Keith.

Subban (MTL): 73/117 = 62.4%
Karlsson (OTT): 66/131 = 50.4%
Keith (CHI): 85/175 = 48.6%
Suter (MIN): 57/118 = 48.3%
Weber (NSH): 51/109 = 46.8%
Pietrangelo (STL): 68/161 = 42.2

The best defense is a good offense

While Subban’s Olympic chances were, at one point, in jeopardy due to the perception that his high-risk, high-reward game could be a defensive liability, nothing could be further from the truth when one examines Subban’s body of work from a numerical standpoint.

In the last two full NHL seasons, not only has Subban led Montreal defensemen in scoring, but he was also the team’s best at preventing goals at even strength. Between 2011 and 2013, P.K. Subban ranked number one on the team in Fewest Goals Against per minute of icetime for a defenseman, outperforming All-World shutdown defenders such as Shea Weber, Dan Girardi and Zdeno Chara while playing against similarly talented first-line opposition.

2012-13   GA/60    NHL Rank
Subban       1.61           9
Chara          1.66        14
S. Weber     2.11         58
Girardi        1.90         33

Superficially, this does not make much sense. It is difficult to conceive that a flashy offensive blueliner who supposedly needs to work on his all-around game can out-play the best defensive specialists in the world at their own game. But in truth, Pernell Karl Subban has intuitively understood that the best way to prevent his opponents from lighting to lamp is for him to be in full control of the puck, more than 150 feet down the ice. Therein lays the true brilliance of this once-in-a-generation star.

Jack Han is a writer for

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