POINTE CLAIRE, QC. — Despite Canadiens fans’ consternation during the team’s impetuous losing streak, the team has had bright spots this season, one of which came in the form of the team’s defensive cynosure. P.K. Subban had a personal best year in 2014-’15, setting new career highs in goals, assists, points and power-play goals. But is it possible that this season, that included a stretch as abhorrent as it was in December and saw Subban struggle to find the back of the net, that he could actually be playing better? Is it possible that the Habs’ perpetual powerplay scapegoat could be ramping up his offensive play from his preceding Norris Trophy caliber season?
The pervasive perception of P.K. Subban is he has a problem getting pucks on net. Accompanied by that concern is the acumen that he pump-fakes excessively or that he doesn’t time his shot while the shooting lane remains open. Subban has his fair share of problems hitting the net on the powerplay, only doing so 40 times in 96 shot attempts, scoring a lone goal, however, 60 of those were directed towards the net. Last season, the team’s Corsi with Subban on the ice was 80.54, through the 43 games of turbulence this season that number is at 90.57. The Canadiens’ highest-paid player did benefit from a once much improved supporting cast and Corsi is a stat that will regress as the 2015-16 campaign persists.
For all of the blueliner’s struggles, scoring goals this season his nugatory goal total certainly hasn’t affected his teammates’ ability to do so, at least from an analytical standpoint. In 2014, on a power-play so horrific insatiable fans were requesting P.A. Parenteau receive more minutes, with Subban on the ice the team had a shooting percentage of 13.51. However this season the comparable number is up at 14.29, better than Erik Karlsson’s who is 12.59. Now, being perfectly cognisant that a shooting percentage will change throughout the course of a season, take this one with a grain of salt.
However, Andrei Markov’s on-ice shooting percentage is within .08 points from last season and Karlsson’s is within 1.87. A major contributing factor to the elevated figures was the pre-Gallagher-injury success of the team’s specialty teams unit that had an unbating amount of success outside of just P.K. Subban.
During the Habs’ wet spot on a previously resplendent fourth season with the team’s new management, Subban has been entrusted upon to run a prosaic man-advantage unit and in a tenable fashion, at least in terms of possession. The seismic shift that once affected the Canadiens’ powerplay saw the team control the puck on entering the line or a dump in that resulted in eventual possession, with Subban running things soon thereafter.
In his best season to date, statistically, the Habs blueliner had a 4.9 Corsi Relative, which indicates the aforementioned puck possession. This season, his total has skyrocketed to 40.2, by far the largest increase of any other NHL player, at least on the powerplay. Now, the fan base’s perception of these numbers will vary. Some will say it’s a testament to the newfound level of the ascendancy of one of the Canadiens’ bellwethers and the other side of the spectrum will point out their perceived superfluous use of Subban and will call for increased variance in puck control.
In a spurious stretch of hockey that’s tarnished the Canadiens’ reputation as a sure-fire Cup contender in 2016; the once stifled stallion that was P.K. Subban has been set free in terms of being put on the ice. As performance and reliance genuflect towards their highest points in the Toronto, Ontario native’s career, Michel Therrien has allocated/been forced to play the team’s best defenceman more minutes. In the highest total of his career to that point, Subban played 3:52 per game on the powerplay last season, but now that total has been elevated to 4:53. However, another major variable is the amount of power plays the team has, in 2014-15 they had an average of 2.96 power plays per game and in 2015-16 they have 3.3. That amounts to another minute and eight seconds which, obviously, increase the contingency of the 6’0 defenceman garnering ice time.
With the cripplingly prophesied P.K. Subban point drive becoming almost completely eradicated due to its predictability there’s no wonder his goal and quality shot on net totals aren’t where they need to be. Such substantial dependence on him in the form of a 40.2 Corsi Relative and having the majority of plays on the powerplay set up through him, which leads to subsequent predictability, are conducive to P.K. not having the goal or point totals anyone would’ve liked out of him. Throughout the painful stretch of hockey that was the month of December, with the powerplay besieged mightily, the team turned to Subban, and he placed it almost entirely upon himself, to carry the Habs which teams, that were already heavily guarding him, took notice of and completely shut that option down.
Subban is second in the entire NHL for shots that were blocked on the powerplay, only one behind Arizona Coyotes defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson at 37. His 20 missed shots were good enough for fourth in the league however his exalted mediocrity was not due to lack of trying, he’s ninth in the league in powerplay shots and has 96 attempted this season.
Conversely, there is the dynamic of how virtuous an opponent’s anticipation is made to look when you raise your stick to the gods every time you utilize one of his greatest assets. The palpable and vexing hesitancy the Canadiens’ superlative defenceman has when teeing up for a one-timer or shot is justified in always having someone in his shooting lane and the fact he has that peerless wind up on his shot that, if his shot is blocked, has the chance to ricochet into center ice and puts him at a disadvantage on the recovery.