P.K. Subban had 53 points in 77 AHL games this season, but has earned three points in six NHL playoff games. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
MONTREAL – The education of P.K. Subban continues, with the most recent installment coming in Game 4 of the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The next Larry Robinson, or a trainwreck waiting to happen? Well, young Pernell-Karl Subban has exhibited both of those traits in his fledgling playoff career. It’s probably a little too early for fans at the Bell Centre to be chanting his name, but there is a lot to like about his high-risk, high-reward game.
And the fact Subban didn’t go into full retreat and become a shell of himself after a first two periods that could be charitably described as dreadful might be the most important thing he has done so far. (I’m willing to give him a mulligan on the Penguins’ first goal when he was tackled at center ice. The call was missed by both Paul Devorski and Eric Furlatt in a game that was easily the most poorly officiated of the playoffs so far for both teams and that’s saying something.)
“Today was just a learning game for me,” Subban said after the Montreal Canadiens’ 3-2 win. “I learned a lot of things today and I’ll just get better for the next game.”
Lesson No. 1: Don’t try to win the game on every shift. It’s great you’re willing to take risks and that will make you a dangerous player, but pick your spots. Lesson No. 2: Don’t run around all over the ice when you’re killing a penalty. Lesson No. 3: It’s never a good idea to cough it up to Evgeni Malkin right in front of your own net.
Subban seems like a smart kid, though, the son of a principal at a middle school in the most socio-economically disadvantaged area of Toronto. So you have to hope those lessons are going to get through to him. And when you consider he’s a 20-year-old kid (who turns 21 in a week) who has played in the American League all year and his first assignment is to replace Andrei Markov and play against the defending Stanley Cup champions, perhaps it’s only natural there would be some bumps in the road.
“I think the biggest thing is that when the bounces aren’t going your way, you’ve got to simplify things,” Subban said. “For the first two games of this series, the bounces were going my way and I had a lot of confidence and I was making plays. The thing is, you have to build on that every game. Today was a game where I learned that you have to stick with it.”
Some credit here must also go to Canadiens coach Jacques Martin, who has evolved from the days when his favorite game was a 0-0 tie with nobody watching. There was a time when Martin would have been inclined to nail Subban’s pants to the bench with railway spikes after the first two periods. But to his credit, Martin showed some faith in Subban, playing him almost eight minutes in the third for a total of 22:01 of ice time.
“I think it was a good learning situation for P.K., and I think it helped him realize that sometimes being simple is what is best,” Martin said. “When you try to step out of your boundaries, it doesn’t help. He’s a young man who is going to have to go through those pains sometimes and I thought he recovered pretty well and hopefully he learns from it.”
Thankfully, Subban will never turn into a glass-chipper, or at least you hope he won’t. He’s an exciting player with some very tangible physical tools and occasionally the team he plays for is going to have to live with the downside of that style. Subban said the veterans in the Canadiens room were great with him, encouraging him to stick with it in the third period.
“He doesn’t need a lot of help; he’s a special player,” said Mike Cammalleri. “We don’t have the feel in this room that he’s a liability by any means or that we have to live with mistakes. We all make mistakes and the puck is going to end up in our net, but we all have each other’s backs. His upside makes up for anything else.”
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Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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