Team first

Tuesday, 07.05.2013 / 2:12 PM canadiens.com

OTTAWA – With Game 4 just a few hours away, P.K. Subban wasn’t interested in talking about himself on Tuesday morning.

For the past year, Subban has made it a rule not to speak with the media on game days. Despite receiving a nomination as a finalist for the Norris Trophy on Tuesday, the 23-year-old didn’t stray from the routine that’s helped him earn a spot among the NHL’s elite blue-liners. Not wanting to be a distraction by drawing the spotlight his way heading into a playoff game, Subban hit the showers without saying a single word about his Norris nod.

That team-first attitude is a big part of the reason he’s had so much success individually this season.

“When he’s playing the right way and he’s doing all the right things, his talent level is [second] to none,” confirmed Gorges, who has played alongside Subban for the majority of the Norris candidate’s young career. “He’s playing within the team concept and guys are all rotating together and feeling it together. He put up points and he played against other teams’ top lines and that comes with being a good team player and doing all the right things.”

Opting for a less-is-more approach to his game in his third NHL season hasn’t slowed down Subban’s ability to execute highlight-reel plays. While few players patrolling NHL blue lines can pull it off, Gorges has developed an appreciation for Subban’s high-risk/high-reward – but more mature – brand of hockey.

“If you’re asking me, yeah [those plays are risky]. But I can’t do what he does,” admitted Gorges with a laugh. “If you ask him, no, because he’s got that ability to keep the puck on his [stick with] one hand, go to his backhand, go to his forehand and he uses his free hand to kind of shield the opposition. I wish I could do that stuff and I wouldn’t say it was risky, but he’s got that ability.”

Having watched Subban develop from the rookie who exploded onto the scene in the 2010 Playoffs to the young veteran who continues to draw boos from opposing crowds every time he touches the puck, Gorges isn’t surprised to see Subban finally being recognized among the league’s best blue-liners.

“He was always a guy that when he got the puck he would go coast to coast. It’s hard not to notice him,” mentioned Gorges of Subban’s early days with the Habs. “But he’s changed a lot since then. That’s something that comes with experience and comes with maturity. Skillsy [Hal Gill] used to talk with him a lot, that you don’t need to do everything. He didn’t need to go back to the first guy, beat every guy, do a spin-o-rama, put it through his legs and do all that. If he did just one of those at a time, great. And he’s learned that now. Beat the first forechecker, get your feet moving and move the puck to the open guy. If there’s a spot to jump, he jumps. If he needs to spin around to protect the puck, he does it. He doesn’t overdo it and he doesn’t put himself in a position to put other guys in jeopardy.”

Playing with poise usually not found in a player just shy of his 24th birthday, Subban led all NHL defensemen with 38 points in the regular season and finished third behind Alex Ovechkin and Mike Ribeiro for power play points with 26, while posting a career-high plus-12 differential in 2012-13. When the playoffs kicked off in Montreal on May 2, he somehow managed to find yet another gear to his game.

“It’s his maturity, first of all,” explained Michel Therrien on his young pupil’s progress this season. “He understands the game more, and he’s focused; he’s a strong boy and he’s got a good shot. But he’s only 23 years old. We know there’s still room for improvement. That’s the fun part for us. You’ve got a young man who’s got great talent, he’s a force out there, he’s powerful and he wants to get better.

“We wanted him to be a humble player; we wanted him to be a mature player,” continued Therrien, who gave his young blue-liner more ice time and more responsibility as the season went on. “The credit goes to him. We tried to teach him a lot of things on the ice; we tried to teach him to become a good professional, but when a player wants to listen and buy in to try to accomplish what you’re teaching, the credit goes to him.”

When he signed on with the Canadiens on May 12, 2012, Marc Bergevin already had a pretty thorough scouting report on dynamic rearguard. Having experienced Subban’s ability to be a game-changer while Bergevin was with the Blackhawks, the Habs GM has enjoyed having Subban’s weapons working for him instead of against him.

“I knew he was a physical defenseman and one thing he’s always had was a big shot,” confirmed Bergevin during an interview for CANADIENS magazine in April. “Especially on the power play, you had to respect that shot. The last time Chicago was here, he beat us late in the game on the power play with a big one-timer like he does all the time.

“He’s very strong on his feet. If you don’t get the right angle on him, you’re not going to knock him off the puck. For his size, pound-for-pound, P.K. is probably the strongest defenseman on his feet. He has a colorful personality and he has a little swagger to him,” added Bergevin. “[Opponents] love to hate him, but if he’s on your team, you love to have him.”

While the Canadiens earned their spot at the top of the northeast division by stressing a team concept, Gorges is happy to see Subban join Calder Trophy nominee Brendan Gallagher in the hunt for end-of-season hardware.

“He deserves it. He had a fantastic year,” praised the Habs assistant captain. “With everything that went on at the start of the year, he really came in with a good attitude. He wanted to prove that he’s an elite player and with the way he played this year, he proved it.”

Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.

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