MONTREAL – The Bell Centre fans who chant his name haven’t turned on him yet, but second-year defenceman P.K. Subban is well aware that he hasn’t been at his best in the Montreal Canadiens first four games of the NHL season.
A fan favourite for his flashy moves rushing the puck up ice and for his bubbly personality, Subban has been guilty of some glaring defensive gaffes as the Canadiens opened the campaign with a 1-2-1 record. The Toronto native has only one assist and is minus-3 thus far.
Then again, the 22-year-old who has played only 83 career NHL contests is also leading the club with 24:55 of ice time per game as the Canadiens deal with injuries to veteran rearguards Andrei Markov, Jaroslav Spacek and Chris Campoli.
“I definitely haven’t played my best, but sometimes things happen and you don’t know why,” Subban said Monday. “When things aren’t going your way it’s tough to stay at it, but you’ve got to go through it.
“There are guys with a lot of experience here to make sure I’m on the right page and that I stay positive. The coaching staff is still putting me out there and that shows confidence. I know I can play better.”
Subban’s struggles were underlined in a 6-5 shootout loss to Colorado on Saturday night. Less than a minute after the Avs’ David Jones tied the game 2-2 midway through the second frame, Subban tried skating the puck through the neutral zone even though he was the last man back. He was stripped of the puck by Paul Stastny, who went in alone to score.
“If I make that move and I beat the guy and go in and score, no one’s going to say anything,” said Subban. “But I turned it over and obviously you’re going to get flack for it.
“I think it’s a small case of doing too much. Most of the time I make that move and I don’t get stripped, so I can’t beat myself up too much about it.”
And Subban said there is no question of altering his game, which often has the crowd on its feet as he winds his way up the ice to lead an attack. He and the team just want him to make better decisions on where and when to do it.
“I’m not going to lose confidence in my game,” he said. “I’m going to keep doing it, but at the right time.”
Coach Jacques Martin tweaked his defence in practice, pairing Subban with Josh Gorges instead of Hal Gill, who is now with first-year rearguard Rafael Diaz. The third pair has Yannick Weber with another 25-year-old rookie, Alexei Emelin.
Gorges said Subban set the bar high with a 14-goal, 38-point rookie season, but he is still going through a “learning curve” in the NHL.
“People expect a lot from him because they know what he’s capable of,” said Gorges. “And he expects a lot of himself.
“One thing everyone has to learn, including P.K., is to not to overextend yourself. There’s a time and a place for flash and when there’s no open ice, there’s not. We’re going to get better and he’s going to get better. There’s no reason to panic.”
Subban said he had a chat with Martin about his play and said he maintains a good relationship with the coach.
“When I’m not playing my best I want to be called out about it,” Subban said. “When I’m playing well, everyone’s going ‘Go P.K., Go P.K.’
“So whether it’s the guys on the team or the coaching staff, there’s no shortage of (accountability) and there shouldn’t be. I know I have to play better and they expect more from me.”
In normal times, Subban may have been benched for his spotty play, but Martin has few alternatives with three defencemen out of the lineup.
The Canadiens took only three of eight points in their opening games against what was considered weaker opposition, but there is a tough test Tuesday night at home against Buffalo and perhaps an even stiffer challenge Thursday night in Pittsburgh.
Martin’s main concern has been special teams, which is usually a Canadiens’ strength. Montreal has allowed four goals on 19 chances by their opponents and scored only twice in 16 power play opportunities.
Forward Michael Cammalleri skated for the first time since he suffered a bad skate cut above a knee in Winnipeg last week but isn’t ready to play. Martin hopes to have him back by the end of the week.
Spacek, who has asuspected rib injury has resumed skating on his own but will need a few practises with his teammates before he can return.
Markov has been in Florida for a week, where he was to see his surgeon on Monday for an indication of when he can resume practising. The veteran is coming off his second major knee surgery in two seasons and is reportedly getting close to a return. Campoli is out indefinitely with a knee injury.
Montreal Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo, who set the CFL career passing yards record last week, will be honoured before the Buffalo game.