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Subban Hitting Stride as Postseason Looms

After Acclimation and Injury, the Nashville Blueliner is Playing His Best Hockey of the Season

by John Glennon @glennonsports / NashvillePredators.com

In the last nine months, Predators defenseman P.K. Subban has endured a trade he never thought would happen, learned a new city, adjusted to a new system and suffered an upper-body injury that sidelined him for four weeks.

The good news for Subban, as he nears the end of his first regular season in Nashville, is that he appears to be getting better and better as the playoffs near.

His goal in Saturday's win over San Jose means that since Feb. 9, Subban has piled up 18 points (2g-16a) in 21 games, the fourth-highest total among NHL defensemen.

"It's been an adjustment, but I think I've gone through the growing pains of pretty much everything this year - a slow start, being injured, and then coming back and finding a way to string together some wins," Subban said. "But I wouldn't have it any other way.

"I think there's still room to get better and really just get used to different things. It's not as easy as everyone thinks coming to a new team. You really have to adjust. But I feel like I'm getting there now."

Defensively, Subban and partner Mattias Ekholm are handling significant responsibilities, playing big minutes against opposing team's top lines on a nightly basis. His Corsi rating - a measure of how well a team possesses the puck when a certain player is on the ice - stands at 54.9, which betters his season-ending figure of the past three years.

"I feel like right now is probably the best and most consistent he's played all year," Predators General Manager David Poile said. "It totally makes sense because he's the healthiest he's been all year and probably in the best shape he's been in all year. I'm looking forward for the best that's yet to come."

Subban's world turned on its head late last June, of course, when the Predators acquired him from Montreal in exchange for Shea Weber.

It was a straight-up trade of All-Stars that stunned both the NHL and Subban, 27, who'd spent his entire career with the Montreal organization that had drafted him in 2007.

"I think there's no question that this trade was a complete shock and surprise to him," Poile said. "So I think wherever he was going to go, there was going to be an adjustment period."

That adjustment process was slowed just a bit from the very start, as Subban missed the first week of Predators' training camp with an upper-body injury.

There was also the matter of finding the best defensive partner for Subban, who began the season alongside Roman Josi. It wasn't long, though, before the Predators decided the 6-foot, 210-pound Subban and 6-foot-4, 215-pound Ekholm would make a more complementary duo.

"I've really liked him with Mattias," Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "They are big, they are strong, and they can play against a big, strong line. They're physically able to handle them in the defensive zone, they're able to get the puck out of the defensive zone, they're able to move it through the neutral zone and they can both add offense."

Part of Subban's adjustment process also involved realizing his new role in Nashville, one in which he didn't necessarily have to shoulder as much of the burden as he did in Montreal.

Subban is actually playing about two minutes less per game than he did the last couple of years with the Canadiens, thanks to a deep and talented Nashville defensive corps that includes Ekholm, Josi and Ryan Ellis.

Video: SJS@NSH: Subban cranks a scorching slapper past Jones

"I'm just trying to settle into my role on this team and help us win, and that doesn't necessarily mean doing everything on every night - but just taking care of my job and doing my job," Subban said. "I think (Ekholm) and I always want to contribute offensively. But there are some nights where we just have to be solid defensively and not give up anything."

One of Subban's more difficult challenges this season occurred in December, when a nagging upper-body injury finally forced him to go on Injured Reserve. He missed the next 16 games recovering, meaning Subban then had to work himself back into top condition and regain the chemistry he'd started to find with his new teammates.

Still, Subban has totaled nine goals and 27 assists through 58 games overall, an average of .62 points-per-contest that is just a shade under the .64 points-per-game he averaged during seven seasons with the Canadiens.

"I think (injuries) probably prevented him from having a complete, consistent season," Poile said. "But I think he's right now probably in the best place he's been all year."

A Toronto native, Subban sounds as if he's also in the midst of acclimatizing himself to life well below the Mason-Dixon line, in a city with an NHL tradition that dates back just a couple of decades.

"I love it here - the energy, the energy of the city," Subban said. "It's great. It's fun. (Family and friends) love to come see me here."

Predators fans are hoping he offers plenty of reasons to visit over the next several weeks.

Subban's totaled 38 points in his 55 career playoff games, including 14 points in 17 playoff contests during the 2014 postseason.

"He's had some good playoff series in his career," Poile said. "I think he sees himself as a top player and a player that can make a difference, especially in a big game. That's one of the reasons that went into a trade like this."

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