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Goal but small part of perfect debut for P.K. Subban

Defenseman shows physicality, snarl in first game with Predators

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

NASHVILLE -- One shot, one goal, one celebration that is likely to live on in Nashville Predators history.

P.K. Subban could not have asked for a better start to his Predators career.

Subban scored the Predators' first goal of the season at 7:46 of the first period against the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday, then turned and mimicked using a lasso before going into what has become his signature bow-and-arrow goal celebration while the sellout crowd at Bridgestone Arena went crazy.

It was his first shot on goal in a Predators uniform, and it went in.

As far as omens go, that's not a bad one.

"I wasn't even thinking of anything like that coming into the game, I just wanted to kind of get back into it," Subban said. "Even though I had a couple of preseason games, it's been almost six months since you've played in a real game that means something. So for me, I wanted to get my feet under me and play hard and play physical and just try to do whatever the coaching staff asked me to do."

Subban was a central figure in the Predators' 3-2 season-opening win against the Blackhawks, but aside from his goal, it was not for the reasons we grew accustomed to seeing over his six seasons with the Montreal Canadiens.

Video: CHI@NSH: Subban's power-play blast ties game at 1

There were no end-to-end rushes, no spin moves deep in his own end to neutralize an opposing forecheck, no razzle, not much dazzle.

There was, however, efficiency, defensive awareness, physicality, snarl.

In many ways, what stood out in Subban's game was very reminiscent of the player the Predators traded away to acquire him from the Canadiens, defenseman Shea Weber.

"They're a great team over there, they've got some great players," Subban said. "My job when I'm out there is not to make it easy on them. As a player who likes time and space to make plays myself, I know how hard it is when guys are in your face every time you look up the ice, every time you turn, every time there's a rebound; if somebody's cross-checking you or hitting you, it's tough. It makes things tough.

"I was just trying to make it as hard as I could on them tonight."

Subban's pair with Roman Josi was matched most often against Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who tweeted on June 29, not long after the trade was announced, that he was thankful to see Weber leave the Central Division.

A little more than two minutes after Subban's goal, Toews was in front of the Predators net with Subban attempting to move him, providing a perfect screen of Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne for Niklas Hjalmarsson's goal to give Chicago a 2-1 lead.

But overall, Subban played Toews tight, never more so than just past the midway point of the third period when the Predators were trying to protect a 3-2 lead. Toews came into the Nashville zone with speed and attempted to pull an inside-out move on Subban, who instead took Toews down and gave him an extra little shot while the two were on the ice.

About two minutes later, Subban had a similar exchange with Patrick Kane as he came rushing toward the Nashville net, drawing a roughing minor but bringing Kane to the penalty box with him after he was called for embellishment, taking away Chicago's biggest scoring threat with 6:23 to go in a one-goal game.

Finally, Subban was called for interference when he aggressively prevented Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa from driving the front of his net at 18:14, causing some tense moments at the end, but again showing how physically engaged he was in the game.

"He's a passionate person," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "Passionate in life, passionate in the game. He had a terrific game."

When asked to elaborate on Subban's play, Laviolette first pointed to what he did in the Nashville end of the ice.

"I thought he was good at both ends of the ice," he said. "Defensively, he was good; he blocked big shots and defended the front of the net well. On the power play, he was effective. (At) 5-on-5, he skated the puck, he moved the puck. I thought he was good."

Predators captain Mike Fisher rewarded Subban for his debut game with what was described as a dog chain with a big lock on it, a sort of player of the game award.

"It's [for] someone that contributes, plays hard," Fisher explained. "He did a lot of great things."

Subban did those great things while playing a different role than he was used to in Montreal.

For starters, he was on the second power-play unit, a decision that is difficult to criticize considering the Predators went 3-for-6. Instead of pairing Subban with Josi on the man-advantage, Laviolette has decided to use Josi with forward Filip Forsberg on the point, and Subban goes out with defenseman Ryan Ellis on the second unit.

As a result, Subban, who was third in the NHL last season with an average power-play time on ice of 4:36 per game, played 1:56 with the man-advantage Friday compared to 6:00 for Josi. Laviolette insisted after the game that there is no first or second unit and that the ice time easily could be flipped when the Predators visit the Blackhawks on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET; WGN, FS-TN), but it was striking to see Subban sitting on the bench for long stretches of a power play.

Subban was asked after the game when was the last time he wasn't on his team's top power-play unit, and he couldn't remember.

"But I don't mind being on the second unit with the five guys we have out there on the first unit," Subban was quick to point out.

It was an unselfish response to cap an unselfish night, one where Subban tried his best to play within Laviolette's structure against the Predators' biggest division rival.

It was indeed a perfect first game for Subban, but his goal actually had little to do with it.

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