Subban's growth as teammate leads to individual nod
OTTAWA --P.K. Subban came off the ice late, as he often does, after the Montreal Canadiens held their morning skate Tuesday to prepare for Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Ottawa Senators (7 p.m. ET, CBC, RDS, CNBC), which Ottawa leads 2-1.
It had been about two hours since it was announced that Subban was one of three finalists for the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best all-round defenseman.
The Canadiens dressing room was packed with reporters, all of whom were informed that Subban did not want to address his Norris Trophy nomination because he wanted the focus to be on the team and not on him.
But some tried to get a word with him regardless.
"Sorry," Subban said as he rushed to get his equipment off, "got to get ready for the game, guys."
As little as a year ago, Subban probably would have jumped at the chance to speak with the media about reaching such a significant milestone in his young career. But at 23 years old, Subban's focus has changed.
"Our focus is winning. We want to win. I want to win," Subban said Monday. "We want to go back to Montreal 2-2. This is the playoffs. Nothing else matters."
As Subban was getting undressed Tuesday morning, his former defense partner, Josh Gorges, was addressing reporters right next to him, speaking about the game to come later that night. But when he was asked a question about Subban, Gorges hesitated.
"Earmuffs," Gorges said, looking at Subban, using a line from the film "Old School" that a character uses with his son when he doesn't want him to hear what he's saying.
Gorges was joking, speaking glowingly of Subban even though his teammate was well within earshot, but that joke still showed a big part of Subban's learning process this season and what coach Michel Therrien and Subban's teammates have tried to instill in him.
"We want him to be a humble player, a mature player," Therrien said. "But the credit goes to him. We wanted to teach him some things on the ice, teach him how to be a professional, and he's wanted to learn."
Subban missed the first six games of the season while he negotiated a new contract with the Canadiens, and when he returned Therrien eased him into the lineup, starting him on the team's third pairing and second power-play unit. Subban had a point in each of his first four games, and starting Feb. 21 he embarked on a tremendous run when he had eight goals and 22 assists in 26 games.
Subban finished tied with Letang as the NHL's top scorer among defensemen with 38 points, and led all defensemen and was third in the NHL with 26 points on the power play.
But Subban's best offensive skill might in fact be something he does 200 feet from the opposing net, and that is fending off opposing forecheckers.
The initial forward who comes in on Subban rarely is very successful because of his ability to use his body to shield the puck, take the hit then decide how to beat him. Opposing forechecking schemes often die before they can get started because that first man gets beat by Subban nine times out of 10.
"As a defenseman, with a forechecker coming in you want to put yourself in a position where you can absorb the hit and put the puck in a position where the next guy can come and get it," Gorges said. "But with P.K., he can absorb that hit and somehow use the forechecker to propel him the other way. And it doesn't matter which way he hits him because he can go either way.
"It's pretty amazing what he can do with his feet, his edges and the strength he has."
While Subban has always had this skill -- though he's truly mastered it now -- Gorges said it's his willingness not to use his talents now as much as he used to that has made him a better player and more dependable teammate.
In the past, Gorges said, it was sometimes difficult to play with Subban because you were never quite sure what he would do next. Now he adheres to the system and picks his spots to use his unique skills.
"A lot of times he would beat the first guy, beat the next guy and then move the puck," Gorges said. "Well, that guy was already open, you didn't have to beat the second guy. It was a waste of energy and you ended up making the same play you would have made anyways. He's figured out now that he has to play a lot of minutes, why waste energy doing extra stuff you don't have to do?”
The fact Subban has learned this so early in his career bodes well for his future, something Therrien is eager to play a role in shaping.
"Considering his age, there's room for him to get to another level, and that's what makes it so interesting for us as coaches," Therrien said. "He has the talent and the strength to take his game to a high level."